Shout YES from the rooftops

 by Pamela Slim

When I was younger, I went crazy for Salsa. I don’t mean the kind involving chopped tomatoes and chili peppers, I mean the sexy, sweaty Latin dance variety.

Nothing, nothing, made me feel better than being whipped around the dance floor to the intoxicating rhythms of salsa music. While dancing, I felt like a combination of a Hollywood temptress, prom queen and Jennifer Beales in the finale of Flashdance.

My passion for salsa dancing was a little problematic since as an Anglo wannabe Latina, I didn’t have too many friends who shared my enthusiasm and were willing to go out dancing with me. Showing up as a single blond was not always recommended, as it was akin to putting a “cheap floozy looking for quick fling” sign on my chest. But my love for dancing overrode any fear of embarrassment.

Salsa dancing is one example of things in my life that make my essential self scream YES.

When I do it, I lose track of time, feel absolutely present in my body and have an involuntary silly grin plastered on my face.

Finding the things that delight and enthrall you is a critical step towards finding a life that not only fits you but thrills you. It helps you make complex decisions like whom to marry, where to go to college and whether or not to quit your job to start a business. It also works for simple things like which restaurant to go for dinner on Saturday night or which color to paint your toenails.

In my last post, I led you through an exercise about identifying your inner NO from Martha’s book Finding Your Own North Star that was sure to leave you drained and unenergized. I made you imagine a scenario where you were being judged by people you didn’t respect on things that you hated to do. I swear, I was not trying to chase you into the arms of a therapist, I just really wanted you to experience what it felt like when your essential self screamed NO.

Today, thank god, we get to swing in the opposite direction, into the people, places and things that make your essential self shout YES from the rooftops.

EXERCISE

This slightly involved but very powerful exercise is lifted directly from Finding Your Own North Star, starting on page 38. There is a lot more detail in the book and some hilarious examples of each question, but this stripped down version should still give you enough information to be effective. Take out a pencil and paper, or click on this link to open a Word template: just-say-yes21 You are going to identify a number of ways in which your essential self says “yes.”

Exercise

1. Nuclear energy.

List three things that can always get you moving (Examples: “The family New Year’s party,” “Playing pickup basketball,” “Going to the mountains.”)

Energy-inducing person, place or thing #1: ________

Energy-inducer #2: ________

Energy-inducer #3: ________

Look over the list and circle the response that makes you feel most enthusiastic.

2. To Your Health.

Try to remember three times when your health seemed better than usual. What was going on in your life at that time?

Situation #1: ________

Situation #2: ________

Situation #3: ________

Circle the situation that has the most positive associations for you right now.

3. Memories, Light the Corners of My Mind ...

Where’s your supermemory? If you can’t think of anything, you’re probably overlooking the obvious. Ask some friends and loved ones what they ‘ve noticed about your ability to pick up certain categories of information. List these categories below.

Info-type #1: ________
Info-type #2: ________
Info-type #3: ________

Circle the type of information that
interests you most. Be honest; nothing you enjoy is stupid or trivial.

4. Time Warp.

Write down the types of activities that make you forget what time it is.

Activity #1: _______
Activity:#2 _______
Activity #3: _______

Circle the activity you find most absorbing.

5. Emotional Intelligence.

Name three people who make you feel socially adept and confident, people who seem to understand you and enjoy spending time with you.

Person #1: _______

Person #2: _______

Person #3: _______

Please circle the name of the person who makes you feel most comfortable and relaxed.

6. Magnetic Attraction.

List times when you felt strangely drawn to a person, place or thing. You may have temporarily become unable to concentrate on anything else. What was the object of your desire?

Urge to merge item #1: _______

Item #2: _______

Item #3: _______

Circle the thing that brings up the most positive feelings.

7. A Natural High.

List the last three times you experienced a wonderful mood, particularly if our good mood came at a strange time or from an action other people may have criticized.

Good-mood setting #1: _______

Good-mood setting #2: _______

Good-mood setting #3: _______

Circle the situation that makes you feel the happiest.

Summary

Step 1:

In the spaces below, list the answers you circled on the exercises.

List your:

A. Most high-energy activity: _______

B. Person who makes you feel most relaxed: _______

C. Best-health situation: _______

D. Information you remember most easily: _______

E. Activity most likely to make you forget the time: _______

F. Item that created the strongest Urge to Merge: _______

G. Best mood setting: _______

Step 2

Fill in the blanks with the appropriate response.

Your Own Best-Case Scenario

It is an incredibly beautiful day. The air is clear, the scenery dazzling, and you’re setting out to do (A: Your most high-energy activity)

_________________________

with (B: your favorite person)

_________________________

You’ve got no other responsibilities, no immediate deadlines, and no major problems weighing you down. You feel great, even better than you did back when you were (C: your best health situation)

_________________________

In fact, you are in the best physical shape of your life: strong, lean, robust and full of energy. You’re having a great conversation about (D: the information you remember most easily)

_________________________

When a message arrives for you. It’s a letter from the president, saying that you have been chosen to receive a lifetime of financial support for doing (E: the activity that makes you forget time)

_________________________

This will require you to spend a lot of time with (F: the person or situation that creates the Urge to Merge)

_________________________

You feel just the way you did when (G: your best-mood setting)
_________________________

happened, only more so. Lie back for a minute, take in the scenery, and enjoy knowing that this is basically how you’re going to spend the rest of your life.

Step 3
As you did with the “worst-case scenario,” read over your “best-case” story carefully. Picture the images as vividly as you can, and notice how you feel. There’s considerable evidence that just visualizing this scene greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll experience something like it at some point in the future. In fact, no matter how impossibly wonderful it may appear, the scenario above is only a pale shadow of the splendid realities you’ll find on the path to your own North Star.

What does it feel like to you, this sense of your essential self saying “Yes! Due north!“? How would you describe the sensation– or is it a sensation at all? Many people experience their true path not as something that happens to them but as the simultaneous loss of self and complete connection with the universe. When the essential self is really in its element, you may be so involved with the work at hand, the people around you, and the things you’re learning that you won’t be aware of yourself as separate from them. This state is the goal of many mystical practices, both in Western religious tradition and in the East. It’s been described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as “flow,” by anthropologist Joseph Campbell as “following your bliss.” What do you call it?

Identifying your inner YES, along with last post’s inner NO, are critical steps in fine tuning your internal navigation system that will lead to better decisions and a more joyful life.

I ask you, maybe even beg, to take the time to complete the exercises. Please share what you learn here, as well as the questions that pop in your mind about what’s next.

In the meantime, pardon me as I take a spin around the dance floor.

(Update 10:24am PST: comments work now, please share your thoughts!)

Welcome to our new blog home!

by Pamela Slim

As promised, we have migrated to a new blog platform (on WordPress for those who take note) that is housed within the newly designed Martha Beck website.

We encourage you to subscribe to this blog by clicking on the gigantic orange button in the upper right-hand corner. This will give you immediate access to new posts without having to keep coming back and check for updates.

If RSS technology has not made it to your part of town yet, you can receive new blog posts via email by entering your email address in the “Enter Your Email” box and clicking on the orange “email updates” button.

While we are currently posting new articles every two weeks, as time goes on, we will increase the variety and frequency.

If this is your first time visiting, please browse the archives for some practical ways to put Martha Beck’s coaching tools to work.

Was Nancy Reagan right? How just saying NO can change your life.

 

by Pamela Slim

I knew my soon-to-be three-year-old son Josh had achieved a new level of negotiation finesse when his vigorous “NO” was tempered into “No Thank You.”  It is hard to get angry at a little man who is exceedingly polite about totally refusing to do anything I ask him.

Josh, stop throwing Legos at the wall and GET YOUR SHOES ON.”
“No thank you Mom!”

Get off that little boy and stop choking him Josh — he doesn’t like to play rough!
“No thank you Mom!”

Josh, you have to eat your veggies if you want to be big and strong like Spiderman!
“No thank you Mom, pass the Cheetos!”

Do you see what I mean?

Josh’s outright refusal to comply with my requests are the manifestation of a very clearly expressed essential self. Unencumbered by the need to please anyone but himself, he feels perfectly empowered to tell me and anyone else who will listen that he will NOT do anything that doesn’t feel good.

The concept of essential and social self was described in Martha’s book Finding Your Own North Star:

“Your essential self formed before you were born, and it will remain until you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil.  It ‘s the personality you got from your genes:  your characteristic desires, preferences, emotional reactions and involuntary physiological responses, bound together by an overall sense of identity.  It would be the same whether you’d been raised in France, China, or Brazil, by beggars or millionaires.  It’s the basic you, stripped of options and special features.  It is “essential” in two ways:  first, it is the essence of your personality, and second, you absolutely need it to find your North Star.

The social self on the other hand, is the part of you that developed in response to pressures from the people around you, including everyone from your family to your first love to the pope. As the most socially dependent of mammals, human babies are born knowing that their very survival depends on the goodwill of the grown-ups around them.  Because of this, we’re all literally designed to please others.  Your essential self was the part of you that cracked your first baby smile; you social self noticed how much Mommy loved that smile, and later reproduced it at exactly the right moment to convince her to lend you the down payment on a condo.  You still have both responses.  Sometimes you smile involuntarily, out of amusement or silliness or joy, but many of your smiles are based purely on social convention.”

Since writing her newest book, Steering by Starlight, this definition has been updated:

“I used to think of the human psyche as having two sides:  the
“essential” self, which determines our talents and preferences, and the
“social” self, which predisposes us to respond to other people’s influence.  Over the past few years I’ve also come to believe there is
a third self, one that goes beyond the boundaries of both the genetic
and social selves.  Buddhists call this “no-self,” a confusing term
meant  to focus our attention on something the intellect can’t grasp.
Other traditions call it the great Self, an identity that is shared by
everything that exists.  I’m going to call it the Stargazer, because it
never loses sight of your own North Star, your destiny.”

Pressure on the essential self

If Josh’s life progresses along the path that most of us take, as the years go by, his willful determination will be tested by nagging parents (me and Darryl), zealous teachers, managers, mentors and eventually a spouse.  His natural inclination to only do what feels good will be tempered by the need to please others.

I am going to hope that between his life coach Mom and medicine man Dad that he will still turn out a happy, confident and balanced young man (Meet you back here in 20 years to see how my predictions turn out, deal?).

But here is the interesting part:  Josh’s inner NO won’t go away, it will just go underground.

For some people, it gets buried so deep that they can’t even hear it anymore.  Some don’t believe it exists!  That is when Martha and I hear our clients say things like:

  • I don’t know what I am passionate about
  • I don’t even know what I feel
  • I am not sure which decision to make – should I stay or should I go?

For these situations, identifying your inner NO is the first step in reconnecting your essential and social selves.

Ready to try?

Getting your essential self to Just Say NO

This slightly involved but very powerful exercise is lifted directly from Finding Your Own North Star, starting on page 17.  There is a lot more detail in the book and some hilarious examples of each question, but this stripped down version should still give you enough information to be effective. Take out a pencil and paper, or fill out this Word template Download just_say_no.doc .  You are going to identify a number of ways in which your essential self says “no.”

Exercise

1.  Energy crisis.

Try to remember three different events or types of events (dental appointments, jobs, classes, social functions, etc.) where you had to show up but felt reluctant and low-energy.

Event #1:  ________

Event #2:  ________

Event #3:  ________

Now please circle the response that has the most negative associations for you.

2.  Sick, sick sick.

Try to remember three times when your health was below par.  What was going on in your life during each of these three time periods?  Please list each situation, along with the physical symptoms you suffered. Don’t worry if these situations are the same ones that came up in the last section, or if all three caused the same symptoms.  Repetition is welcome in this game.

Situation #1:  _______  Symptoms:  _______

Situation #2:  _______  Symptoms:  _______

Situation #3:  _______  Symptoms:  _______

Circle the worst symptom.

3.  Forgetting.

Write down the information that you find difficult to remember (for example, “people’s names,” “my kids’ school schedules,” “where I put my important papers”).

Info-type #1:  ________
Info-type #2:  ________
Info-type #3:  ________

Circle the type of information you forget most often
.

4.  Bundles o’ Blunders.

Write down three stupid mistakes you remember making.

Mistake #1:  _______

Mistake #2:  _______
Mistake #3:  _______

Circle the most disastrous mistake.

5.  Social Suicide.

Name three people who bring out your very worst social behavior.  It might help to review hour life’s most embarrassing moments; the two are often linked.

Person #1:  _______

Person #2:  _______

Person #3:  _______

Please circle all three of these names.

6.  Fight or Flight.

List times when you couldn’t sleep, slept very poorly, or slept so much you felt groggy and squalid.  What was the problem in your life that caused the sleep disturbance?

Problem #1:  _______

Problem #2:  _______

Problem #3:  _______

Circle the issue that most disrupted your sleep.

7.  Addiction.

Name a bad habit or obsessive thought pattern you’ve been unable to eliminate:  ________________.  Now remember what happened to trigger that bad habit the last three times you fell off the wagon. (For example, “I’d had an argument with my mom,” “I’d been working day and night for a month,” “I was facing a performance review.”

Habit Trigger #1:  _______

Habit Trigger #2:  _______

Habit Trigger #3:  _______

Circle the “trigger” that is the most likely to make you tur to your addiction or habit.

7.  Moody Blues.

List the last three times you experienced a very bad mood or a mood that seemed inexplicable, unjustifiable, or extreme. Again, note what was happening in your life at the time this occurred.

Bad-mood setting #1:  _______

Bad-mood setting #2:  _______

Bad-mood setting #3:  _______

Circle the situation that brought out your worst mood.

Summary

Step 1:

To get your essential self to “speak” to you, we first need to assemble all the things you hate most.  In the spaces below, list the answers you circled on all the exercises in this post.

List your:

A.  Lowest energy situation:  _______

B.  Three people who bring out your worst social behavior:

1.  _______

2.  _______

3.  _______

C.  Worst medical symptom:  _______

D.  Most forgettable information type:  _______

E.  Stupidest mistake:  _______

F.  Problem that most disturbs your sleep:  _______

G.  Worst bad habit “trigger”:  _______

H.  Setting for your worst mood:  _______

Step 2

Now we’re going to create a little scenario together — a scenario that should set your teeth on edge.  Using the items you’ve written on the list in Step One, fill in the blanks in the following story.  For example, if you wrote “dental appointments” next to the letter “A” in Step One, you’ll write “dental appointments in the blank labeled “A” below.

Your own worst case scenario

Imagine for a moment that you are in (A:  Your lowest energy situation)

_________________________

You are surrounded by (B:  all three names on your list)

_________________________

_________________________

_________________________

You are not feeling your best, in fact, your (C:  worst medical symptom)

_________________________

is bothering you more than ever before.

You’ve been given a lifetime assignment that involves working with (D:  most forgettable information)
_________________________

All the people in the room are authorized to watch you constantly, criticize your performance, and punish you if you make any mistakes.  Speaking of mistakes, you have just done (E:  stupidest mistake)

_________________________

a fact that is being noted by your three supervisors.  Your life in general is pretty difficult right now; that whole thing with (F:  most sleep-disturbing problem)

_________________________

is happening all over again.  You’re also trying to deal with (G:  worst bad-habit trigger)

_________________________

To top it off, (H:  your bad mood situation)

_________________________

is more intense than ever before.

Just when things are at their worst, (B-1: the person who makes you feel most uncomfortable)
_________________________

walks up.  He or she orders you to sit up politely, smile in a way that is both humble and worshipful and say to the entire assembly, “I admire you so much.  Thank you, thank you for letting me be here.  You are such a terrific person, and this is just what I deserve.  I want to live this way for the rest of my life.”

Step 3
Read over this scenario, once you’ve filled in the blanks.  Really put yourself into it.  Then pay attention to your own reaction.  How do you feel?  Rotten, I hope.  If you vividly imagine this horrible situation, you’ll experience your own particular blend of anger, despair, illness, and anxiety.  This should reach a peak when you imagine facing the person you hate most and turning over all your power to change anything.  Whatever you feel in this moment is the sensation of your essential self saying NO!

Don’t run away from this feeling just yet.  Focus on and wallow around in it.  Explore its particular shape, texture, and size.  Notice how it differs from other negative feelings.  Your true path will take you through frightening challenges, saddening departures, angry resistance and a number of other profoundly unpleasant experiences. But the pain you experience en route to your North Star feels clean, necessary and right to the essential self.  It is very different from the intense aversion you would feel in the scenario we’ve just created.  You’re not supposed to feel that way, ever.

That feeling of choked hostility, or numb depression or nauseated helplessness is a sure sign you’re steering away from your North Star towards a life you were not meant to live.  When you feel it, you must change course.  You must say to the people around you what your essential self is saying inside:  Nope, Not going there.  Not doing that.  Sorry, but the answer is no.”

Or, as Josh might add, NO THANK YOU!

I have been told that as a toddler completes the rite of passage of “not a baby, not yet a little boy,” (sorry Britney) a cheerful YES will occasionally pop out of his mouth.  I’ll believe it when I see unicorns and leprechauns doing my yard work.

For now, I am learning from Josh to embrace my inner NO.  I suggest you do the same.

And don’t worry, there’s a positive side to all this: next blog post (April 1) we will complete the exercise for finding out how your essential self says “Yes.”  Feeling that, instead of what you felt doing this exercise, will give you the gumption to say “No, thank you,” to everything that doesn’t feed your soul.

I’d love to hear what insights you glean from this exercise!  Please share in the comments.

 

 

Are your thoughts keeping you stuck? Time for some belief busting

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by Pamela Slim

The other day, I was talking with my client Laura (not her real name) about her big, audacious business idea.  She had shared lots of background information on the project over email, and it was clear to me she was wildly informed about the idea and extremely competent to implement it.  Then she said:

“I want to talk to some other people who are doing similar projects, but I am not prepared enough to talk to them yet.”

As soon as she said this, I heard a big “SCREECH!” sound in my mind which is an indication that some belief busting is in order.

How do beliefs get in our way?

If you read magazines or watch news shows, you should have no problem knowing what to do to improve your life.  Articles and stories abound about things like:

  • How to lose 10 pounds in 2 days while eating chips and salsa
  • 3 steps to turn your potato chip-loving kids into tofu enthusiasts
  • 7 ways to find the mate of your dreams
  • 8 ways to reduce your debt and have financial freedom
  • And my personal favorite that has been covered by Cosmopolitan Magazine at least 5,000 times in the last 40 years:  5 ways to make your man deliriously happy in bed!

The fact is, we know what to do and how to do it.  So why don’t we?

Because of unhealthy and unhelpful beliefs.

Using my earlier example, my client wants to get her business off the ground.  She knows that in order to do it in the most efficient way possible, she needs to learn from others who have already walked that road.  But her belief “I am not prepared enough to talk to other business owners” is getting in her way.

To help shake loose this unhelpful thought, I used the four questions from Byron Katie’s pioneering book called Loving What Is:  Four questions that can change your life

As Katie says in her book:

“The Work is simply four questions that, when applied to a specific problem, enable you to see what is troubling you in an entirely different light. It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem. Contrary to popular belief, trying to let go of a painful thought never works; instead, once we have done The Work the thought lets go of us.  At that point, we can truly love what is, just as it is.”

The Four Questions from “The Work.”

  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it is true?
  3. How do you react when you think that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?and

Turn it around.

Here is how my client and I used it.  I added my commentary in parentheses under each question:

Me:  You said that you were not prepared to talk to other business owners about your idea.  Is it true?

Laura: No, it is not true.
(When asked directly, she immediately realized that this belief was not true.)

Me:  So you can see specific reasons it may not be true?

Laura:  Yes.
(If someone is not as clear as Laura when asked the first question, I might clarify this second question with an  example like “Is there any possibility that this is not true?”  Usually this is enough to shake up some of the belief)

MeHow do you feel when you think the thought “I am not prepared to talk to other business owners about my idea?”

Laura:  I feel my energy level dip.  Lack of confidence creeps in.  I get overwhelmed.

MeWho would you be without that thought?

Laura:  I would be strong and confident.  I would not be afraid to talk to anyone.

Me:  OK, so if we wanted to take your original statement and turn it around to its opposite, what might it be?

Laura:  I am prepared to talk to anyone about my project.

MeIs this belief as true or more true as your original statement?

Laura:  It is more true.

Me:  What about, “Other business leaders are prepared to talk to me?” I asked.

Laura:  “Yes!” Laura said.  “I’m asking them for guidance–I just have to learn.”

“People like teaching others who seem fascinated in their stories,” I put in.  “I think you’ll find they like talking to you even more than you enjoy listening to them.”

(I could hear over the phone that Laura was more relaxed and upbeat about the thought of talking to new partners after walking through the 4 questions.  Most importantly, the thought “I am not prepared enough to talk to other business owners” was not holding her back from action which is the special talent of unhealthy and unhelpful beliefs.)

Is it really as simple as that?

Well, yes and no.

When you approach The Work with an open mind and really tap into your own truth, you will find that the most negative beliefs about yourself are rarely grounded in reality.  Replacing these thoughts with positive, action-oriented and empowering thoughts will at the least make you a happier person and at the most allow you to experience mind-altering progress in all aspects of your life.

The Work lives in the Ring of Fire that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  It literally burns up beliefs that hold you back and replaces them with lighter energy and forward momentum.

But it will only work if you approach it with an open mind and a clear heart.

Try it yourself with sneaky thoughts that creep in your head like:

  • I will never get out of debt
  • My kids will never eat healthy food and will blow up like Violet Beauregarde, the blueberry girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • My troubled past makes me unlovable
  • I am not experienced enough to start my own business
  • These 20 lbs of baby weight will be permanently attached to my thighs until I draw my last breath

I would love to hear how The Work works for you!  Try it and report back in the comments section.  It is best if you can do it in partnership with a trusted friend or coach.

Happy belief busting!

Why would you want to walk through the Ring of Fire?

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by Pamela Slim

It may seem a bit strange to brag about coming from a proud lineage of divorced relatives. But proud I am:  my parents and every single aunt and uncle in my family got divorced and remarried.

“That explains it!  I always knew something was a little ‘off’ about that Pam Slim,” you say.  “Coming from a broken family like that.”

Fascinating interpretation.  And dead wrong.

What I gained by watching my parents and relatives go through painful, gut-wrenching, excruciating divorces was the realization that by walking through hell with an open mind and willing heart, you come out a freer, happier and more whole person.

Martha calls this hell the “Ring of Fire” in her forthcoming book Steering by Starlight.

What is the Ring of Fire?

The Ring of Fire is part of a bigger picture shown here:

Clip_image003_3

Martha describes each component:

The Shallows (Material Reality):

“The exterior shell of our life is what I call the “Shallows.”  You might also call it the world of form, of physical objects and the thoughts that cluster around them.

When your consciousness is fully attached to this realm, you are a material girl or boy.  You’re mentally trapped in your concept of yourself as isolated, limited and separate from all other things.  Your socialized beliefs and your lizard-fears direct your actions, which consist of running from things you dread and grasping at things you desire.  Maddeningly, no matter what you do, danger is never fully averted and desire is never permanently fulfilled.  Life is a bitch, and then you die.”

The Core of Peace (The Stargazer):

“At our very cores, unperturbed by the disturbances of the shallows, lies that Stargazer self.  No untruth can exist at this level of awareness: no apparent separation from the fabric of the universe, no pain, no fear, no death.  The real reason we feel so starved in the shallows is that we aren’t made to be satisfied with material possessions, or with concepts of ourselves as famous, noble, smart, handsome, righteous, influential, blah blah blah.  What we really want is the peace of the Stargazer.  The irony is that this is already present in every single one of us, though it’s obscured by the dense matter of our lives at the shallowest.”

The Ring of Fire:

“The Ring of Fire is the emotional process we must go through to reach the Core of Peace.  There are only two ways to accomplish this.  We can disbelieve any false ideas that are causing unnecessary pain.  Any unavoidable pain — loss of health or a loved one for example — we must grieve.”

My family’s Ring of Fire ignited around our
kitchen table in 1971.  I was five years old.  I can still vividly recall every detail of the moment: the red and white checkered table cloth, the feel of my Mom’s lap and the look on the faces of my siblings as my Mom and Dad told us they were getting a divorce.
Although they said a lot of things, only one phrase from that
conversation stuck with me for decades afterward:  “We love each other,
we just cannot live together,” they said.

My stomach dropped and I felt a heaviness in my chest.  My safe, ideal, neat, organized world was blown apart.

My Mom describes the next 10 years as being filled with pain,
depression, anxiety and fear.  “There were many days I woke up and
didn’t know how I would get through the day,” she says.  She was living in
the Ring of Fire, as were each of us in our own way, and in our own time frame.  Although it was not pain that she or my Dad wanted to experience, nor to share with their kids, it happened, and we all became stronger people as a result.

Divorce is certainly a common precursor for the  Ring of Fire, but there are many other triggers such as:

  • death of a loved one
  • financial hardship
  • loss of a job
  • illness
  • victimization from a crime
  • labor without an epidural (having just gone through this, I can vouch for it!)
  • plain old desire to feel better

What kind of people avoid the Ring of Fire?

Sane ones of course.  But two types in particular referenced in Steering by Starlight:

  • Story fondlers get so enamored with their tragic stories from the past that they are unable to give them up and move forward.  They say things like:
    • “My life was great until that bastard left me!”
    • “My Mom never loved me!  She always paid more attention to my big brother.”
    • “I never would have gone bankrupt if I didn’t have to bail out my siblings all the time”
  • Fire-fleers are so afraid of feeling the pain and grieving that is associated with the Ring of Fire that they keep up a frantic pace to avoid dealing with it.
    • “I know my Mother died yesterday, but really, I am ok.  I am ready to come back to work.”
    • “I know I caught my husband in bed with my best friend last week, but I am past it.  I have a new boyfriend, and I am sure he will never cheat on me.”
    • “No, my breast cancer diagnosis is not scary at all.  I’m tough – I can take it!”

How do you make it through the Ring of Fire?

Martha offers the following prescription for both profiles:

For story fondlers:

“If you have a tendency to story-fondle, pick up something you complain about often, stop discussing it and take action to change it. If you’re underpaid, ask for a raise, or quit.  Stating clearly to your boss “I won’t continue to work here unless I get a ten percent raise  by March” is very different from telling all your coworkers how bad the boss is, and how miserable it is for you to be paid so little.  Similarly, if a certain friend  mooches off you, stop saying yes -say no and mean it.  If a loved one is addicted and it’s ruining your life, stage an intervention, or go to a codependency group.

For fire-fleers:

“If you characteristically run from feelings, or if there are a few awful things in your life that you’ve never allowed yourself to think about, stop running.  In fact, stop doing anything, for at least a couple of hours a week.  Stop smoking, drinking, eating, working, drugging, jogging, cleaning, gossiping, reading-halt all activity that distracts you from your felt experience.  Find a compassionate witness who’s willing to listen, and then talk about the things in your history and your heart that you least want to talk about.”

Regardless of which profile you lean towards, when you start following this advice, you most likely will feel yourself engulfed by fear.

This is no garden variety anxiety or worry, but the kind of all-consuming beast that opens its foaming mouth and shows you its sharpened fangs. This kind of fear is what animals can smell.  It has a form, shape and spirit, and if it scares the hell out of you, you are on the right track.

Doing the Thing You Think You Cannot Do

Martha says:  “The advice I’ve just given you is the opposite of the usual logic that people adopt when something goes wrong, and the flames start licking at their toes.  Creating change, causing a ruckus, facing up to bullies, rocking the boat, taking action, is the last thing story-fondlers want to do.  Sitting still and feeling grief or fear while not moving at all, is the last thing fear-fleers want to do.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  This turns up the heat in the ring of fire so that your limiting beliefs, your outer-limit identities, your mental dungeons burn like tinder.”

How do you get through it?

When you dive into this degree of fear or pain, you must live in the present.  Your gut reaction is going to be to grasp for anything — sitting on a bed of nails, gargling with Drano — that feels better than experiencing your fear.  Resist that, and just try to stay focused on what you feel.  Don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow or even the next 10 minutes.  Whatever you are feeling, feel it fully.  You may sob, fall to your knees, throw things, vomit or curl up on the floor in a fetal position. “Say Yes to the Mess” is how Martha describes it.  Then, just keep doing the thing that scares you most. After awhile, you pick up momentum and the challenge is not as great, the dread not as thick.

Some people make it through the Ring of Fire alone, but most require some combination of great friends, therapy, coaching, spiritual support or at least a really great “I left Ike so you can make it out of here too-inspired” Tina Turner song.

How do you know you are close to coming out of the Ring of Fire and into the Circle of Peace?

My Mom described a moment when she woke up one morning, on a day just like so many others for the past ten years. But on this morning, she felt different.  There was no dread and sadness.  She was peaceful.  She saw a positive future.  She felt strong.  She had made it through the Ring of Fire.

This feeling of calm will fill up every part of your being.  And you will be fundamentally changed for the better, reflecting your secure, joyful and authentic Stargazer self.

My parents, aunts and uncles are healthy, warm, funny, optimistic and caring people.  They all have happy and supportive “Round 2” spouses.  This is not by chance:  instead of hanging on to bitterness, addiction, unfit relationships and self-defeating thinking, they chose to burn them up in the Ring of Fire.

And because I saw their courage and resilience, I am not afraid to step into the heat.  That makes me not a “child from a broken home,” but a fire walker.

So if you are teetering on the edge of the flames, feel the fear and jump anyway.  You won’t regret it.

Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down?

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by Pamela Slim

I had a friend from college named Javier who was convinced that Walt Disney had it in for him.  I don’t remember the particular conspiracy, only that it involved subliminal messages, Mickey Mouse and lots and lots of oppression.

Walt Disney was not the only tyrant in his life, there were many more:

•    Academia
•    The U.S. Government
•    The IRS
•    The CIA

I am sure I am only scratching the surface.

The funny thing is, none of these monolithic institutions held a candle to the sabotage Javier did to himself.  He had tormented love affairs.  He would lose school papers on his computer just as he was about to finish them.  His promising internships always ended in a fight with a boss or co-worker. His sharp intellect and gigantic heart were prisoners behind a curtain of anger, hurt and bitterness. All he knew was that Everybody was out to get him.

Martha explains this phenomenon in Finding Your Own North Star:

“In fact, everybody’s Everybody is composed of just a few key people.  Our social nature makes us long to fit in with a larger group, but it’s difficult to hold the tastes and opinions of more than five or six individuals in your mind.  So the resourceful social self creates a kind of shorthand:  it picks up a few people’s attitudes, emblazons them on your brain, and extrapolates this image until it covers the entire known universe.  The vague compilation of folks, you call Everybody is what psychologists term ‘the generalized other.”

Looking at the world through an Everybody perspective leads to statements like:

  1. I would be more successful in my career, but The Company is holding me back
  2. More people would read my blog if the A Listers weren’t so selfish
  3. I would start a business but no one from my background ever succeeds
  4. I would be in a relationship if Men were not such dogs
  5. I would be better at handling my money if Schools didn’t discriminate against girls in Math

Such broad generalizations keep you stuck and powerless.  By believing them, you hand your creativity and motivation directly to the force you think is oppressing you.

To get a handle on who your Everybody is, try a couple of these exercises from Finding Your Own North Star, (page 63):

Everybody on Deck

Step 1:  Finish the following sentences by writing down whatever comes from your gut, no matter how silly it may seem to your brain.

1)    People judge me because:
2)    Everyone loves it when:
3)    When I do well, people feel:
4)    Nobody will let me:
5)    Everybody always tells me to:
6)    People just can’t accept the fact that I:
7)    When I fail, everyone thinks:
8)    Nobody cares when I:
9)    Society keeps telling me I have to:
10)    Everyone expects me to:

Step 2:  For each statement above, write the names of six people you know who actually, verifiably hold the opinions you’ve ascribed to Everybody.  You can use the same names for every question if that’s what pops up.

If you are like most people, you may be able to generate two, maybe three people for each item.

This list of people generally includes people you love and people you hate. Most likely, it is not everyone in the known universe, or even in your suburban cul-de-sac.

Create an alternate Everybody

Do you have a sense that your Everybody is either people you don’t care about or who don’t have your best interest at heart? Since Everybodys usually come from family, media culture, ideological camps, school, peers or organizations, their influence is strong. But are they really the right people to support you?   If not, you are ready to create an alternate Everybody using another exercise from Finding Your Own North Star (page 84).

Alternate Voices Exercise:

Step 1:  For each of these statements, make two columns:  in the left, people that have told you this statement is not true, and  in the right, people who have told you this statement is true. Fill in as many blanks as you can.  You don’t have to fill in all of them, and it’s fine if the same names come up in response to different statements.  Bother only with the statements you do not believe, and remember, no generalizing.

  1. I’m a natural born winner: always was, always will be.
  2. The world is full of people who would love to be my friends.
  3. I’ll always have plenty of money.
  4. I deserve a life of joy and fulfillment
  5. I’m physically beautiful, and I always will be.
  6. I can be wildly successful at my chosen career.
  7. I have an amazingly capable brain.
  8. I’m perfectly lovable exactly as I am.
  9. I’m highly creative by nature.
  10. My dreams are in the process of coming true.

Here is an example of the worksheet:

Alternatevoice

 

Step 2:  Look over the columns of names you’ve written down in the previous exercise, and answer the following questions:

  1. Whom do you like more?  (People on left/People on right)
  2. Whom do you respect more? (People on left/People on right)
  3. Which people have the happier, more fulfilling lives? (People on left/People on right)
  4. Which people have more stable, intimate relationships? (People on left/People on right)
  5. If you had a baby and were forced to leave your child to be raised by other people, whom would you choose? (People on left/People on right)
  6. Which individuals most deserve to have their opinions ignored, belittled and discounted? (People on left/People on right)
  7. Why in the name of all that’s holy would you give any credence to the people on the left?

Redefining your Everybody may feel uncomfortable since some of you, like Javier, have felt a giant boot in your neck for many years.

Changing perspectives does not mean that some people are not out to get you.  Nor does it aim to minimize hurt inflicted on you by real people.

As an example, just yesterday, an Anglo business colleague said to my husband (who is Navajo), while looking at his long beautiful hair, “Good thing General Custer is not alive, he sure would have loved scalping you!”

Whether you chalk this up to racism or good old-fashioned stupidity, it is apparent that The Man’s spirit is alive and well in today’s society.

But this I know for sure: if you dig deep and redefine your Everybody, you just might find there is a nurturing, supportive conspiracy to lift you up.

Trust me, Everybody knows I’m right.

Lessons from the 4-day win experiment

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Pamela Slim

I promised to report back today on the success of my 4-day win, which I shared earlier this week in Death to procrastination:  Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving.  I encouraged readers to share their own goals and we got some specific examples from Mike, Andy, Latarsha, Rosalind, Billionaire Strategies, Glenda, Kizla, Jan Marie and Judy (see comments on the original post).

My 4-day win involved working on a book proposal, a task I have tried to accomplish in the past (without success, and with great consternation).  My specific goals and rewards are in this worksheet (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win
Here are three lessons I learned from the experience:

  1. It makes a HUGE difference to set a small, feasible goal each day.
    I have a classic case of what Martha describes as “monkey brain,” skittering from one bright shiny object to the next when I have loads of work to do.  But with a very small, specific task to accomplish each day, I had no problem getting the work done.  I didn’t feel pressured or rebellious and actually accomplished much more than my daily goal.  My thoughts flowed, and I didn’t exhibit usual signs of stress like a pounding heart, tight throat or pressure at my temples.
  2. A daily reward really works.
    I have had a lot of writing projects lately, and have been wanting to work on a very personal post about immigration, using photos of a farming family I stayed with in Mexico over 20 years ago. All the photos were in slide format, and I recently had them scanned into digital photographs.  Even though I was dying to look at the photos, I made myself wait until I accomplished my daily task.  The anticipation really built up and heightened the enjoyment of the reward.  Opening up each photo, I actually got tears in my eyes from connecting to such an important part of my past. It was a wonderful emotion to associate with my book proposal.
  3. When you accomplish small wins, you can stop and relax instead of living in a constant state of stress and dread.  I have been an “all or nothing” kind of gal for some important projects in the past, either whittling away hours and hours on small, insignificant tasks to avoid a big project or pounding away at the keyboard for hours on end up to the last second of a deadline.  I noticed it is much more stressful to avoid a task rather than to do a small portion of it.  When I accomplished my daily goal, I was able to step away from work and truly relax, which energized me for the next day.

The 4-day win really worked for me.  I am excited about incorporating it into my life and sharing it with my clients.

Alright Mike, Andy, Latarsha, Rosalind, Billionaire Strategies, Glenda, Kizla, Jan Marie and Judy, how did it work for you?

Death to procrastination: Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving

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It has been 15 days since dawn of the New Year and you may be like me:  running around like a rabbit on a 5-shot latte, skittering between the computer keyboard, stacks of books and piles of paper. At this point in the calendar, one of two things usually happens:

  1. You power through your goals and objectives, meeting timelines like a well-oiled Swiss train, confident that this year, like last, you will keep your word and complete all your resolutions
  2. You look at the piles on your desk, pinch the roll of fat at your waist, stare at the blank page on your computer screen and say:  “LOSER!  Once again, you have proven that you have less initiative than a slug in a salt factory.  Now go shove some cookies in your mouth, PRONTO!”

By making your goals broad and far-reaching, you guarantee that they will be immediately sabotaged by your inner meanie.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of beating yourself up, try a 4-day win, which hails from Martha’s book of the same name. The focus of the book is losing weight, but the tool can be applied to any goal or project.

What is a 4-day win?

A 4-day win is a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.

Once you complete a 4-day win, you take your buzz of accomplishment and create another one.  And another, stringing them together until they become your finished book, or hot body or whatever else you are trying to manifest.

(It reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons which shows a frantic man in the shower with suds on his head screaming “Honey, get me out of here!  The label says ‘Lather, rinse, repeat!’”)

Why four days?

According to Martha:

“When I started exploiting this little bit of psychological numeracy in my coaching, I found that people who had trouble starting a week-long program of change jumped right in if I asked them to sustain a new behavior for just 4 days.  I also discovered that after the 4 days, the inertia that had been keeping them locked into a pattern of action-or inaction-had changed and was now actually pushing them forward.  Even though I specified that they were free to step making a change after the 4-day period, they often said they’d rather continue, because they’d already blasted through the initial resistance and were starting to see positive change.  This happened with so many clients that I started to call it “the 4-day win.”

How do you construct a 4-day win?

Step 1: Pick a goal

Look at your to-do list and pick a juicy goal such as:

  • Write a book proposal
  • Create a website
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family

From this goal, choose a task that you would like to accomplish in one day.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal → write the first two pages
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients

Step 2: Play halvsies until your goal is ridiculously easy to attain

We start out with what we think are realistic goals, but most of the time they are not, otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle to complete them.  So take your goal from Step 1 and halve it until you know with confidence that you can actually get it done.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal→ write the first two pages→write one paragraph
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page→choose three colors for your design
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes→do 10 squats
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients→add an organic carrot stick to your plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Keep playing “halvsies” until the goal feels just South of totally realistic, and just North of so easy it is insulting.

Step 3: Identify a reward

For each daily accomplishment, choose a small reward that will make you happy. Something like:

  • Play 20 minutes of Spider Solitaire, uninterrupted by toddlers or a nagging wife (my husband’s favorite)
  • Read the new issue of People magazine in the bathtub (my favorite)
  • Eat one piece of really good chocolate

Step 4:  Identify a 4-day reward

Think of an additional, slightly larger reward if you manage to keep your ridiculously easy goal for 4 days.  Depending on your budget and taste, this could be something like:

  • A pedicure with an extra decal on your big toe
  • A nice dinner at your favorite restaurant
  • A hike on your favorite trail on Sunday, regardless of how many piles of laundry are sitting on the washing machine

Step 5:  Make sure the action and reward are linked

Martha says:

“If you meet your ridiculously easy daily goals, you absolutely must give yourself the reward. Same with your 4-day goal.  You must also resist any temptation to give yourself the reward if you don’t meet your goals.  If you do all this and you still don’t take any action, reduce the task, increase the reward, or do both, until you start moving.”

Finally …

Fill out a sheet of paper with your own four day win just like the picture of mine here (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win

Post it in at least three places:  Your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door and your workspace.  Check off each day you manage to complete your ridiculously easy goals.

I am seriously going to do my 4-day win
.

If you are motivated by public accountability, write yours here in the comments.  Five days from now (January 20) I will post about how I did on mine and encourage you to do the same.

Final thoughts on the number 4

I couldn’t help but share some additional information on the significance of the number 4, courtesy of my distracted mind combined with Google:

The number 4 in the Tarot :

“Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.”

The number 4 in Numerology :

“In the Jewish religion, the number four is significant because of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God which is so holy it is never spoken. In Chinese numerology (as well as that of other Oriental languages), the word “four” is a homonym of the Chinese word for “death”. As thus, some hospitals do not have a 4th floor.

So perhaps “death to procrastination” is more than a dramatic headline after all!

-Pam


Pamela Slim is a Martha Beck certified coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation

A new year and a new blog!

Seven years ago, my phone rang. It was my best friend Desiree calling who said:

“You ARE Martha Beck.”

“What?” I replied, quite sure that I was still named Pam.

“Turn on Oprah.  There is this lady on right now called Martha Beck who is doing exactly what you should be doing with your life.”

I watched the show and was intrigued by this “life coach” named Martha.  I rushed out to buy her book, Finding Your Own North Star.  I took a couple of her workshops.  I started a coaching business.  And today, as I gaze up at the URL over my head like Alice in the intro of The Brady Bunch, I see “marthabeck.com.”

Weird?  Yes.  Random coincidence?  Absolutely not.

It is one small example of what happens when you listen to your inner voice (or that of a wise friend) and follow your North Star.  We all have an internal navigation system which points to our right life filled with meaningful work, good health, loving relationships and a nice fat bank account.

But somehow, for reasons ranging from wildly dysfunctional childhoods to rigid educational structures to crazy-making corporate environments, we fail to listen to this voice and get stuck thinking things like:

  • I would rather commit Hara-kiri than spend one more day in my office
  • My body is my enemy
  • I am an imposter in my high-paying job and when they find out, they will fire me
  • My family is right – I am the crazy uncle that will never get it together
  • I have the mate-finding skills of Pamela Anderson
  • I am drowning in debt and will never get out

The good news?  You are not alone and there is something you can do about it.

Through this miraculous field called life coaching, there are specific tools and exercises for clearing the gunk that gets in the way of your right life.  “Roto Rooter for the soul,” as Martha is fond of saying.  These tools are not just touchy-feely mumbo jumbo, they are well-researched and tested and they work.

Here on this blog, we want to share these tools, widely, so that you don’t have to stay stuck and unhappy for too long.  Wallowing in self-pity can be fun for awhile, but like relatives overstaying their welcome, it gets awkward, strained, uncomfortable and unhealthy.

The format of the blog is the following:

  • I will write a couple of articles a month
  • As we get on a roll, we will add tips and tools from other coaches and authors, including Martha
  • We’ll spotlight Martha’s monthly columns in O Magazine
  • We’ll introduce new content from Martha’s forthcoming book Steering by Starlight
  • And we will delight in having conversations about these things with YOU, our dear readers, that will educate and inspire us all.

And just to clarify, since you obviously know by now that I am NOT Martha Beck, my name is Pamela Slim. I am a coach, writer and author of the Escape from Cubicle Nation blog.  Self-employed for 11 years, I spent 8 years consulting in the guts of Corporate America, in conference rooms and cubicle farms from San Francisco to New York.  While I enjoyed my work, I noticed that scores of people were walking around like the living dead, doing their best to pretend that everything was alright while secretly fantasizing about jumping on a desk, throwing a stapler at their boss and screaming a goodbye speech to rival that of Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. So I trained as a coach (with Martha) and now act as a kind of a modern-day, Web 2.0, Anglo suburban Harriet Tubman for corporate employees.

I look forward to getting to know each of you this year.  What fun!

Now it’s your turn:  What kinds of things are you dying to discuss on this blog?

Happy New Year, Everybody!

Okay, folks, you know me too well to think I’d let New Year’s Eve pass without making a fuss over resolutions. I LOVE New Year’s resolutions! However, I do not love social-self rigidity, white-knuckle compliance, or devotion to things that fail to contribute to your absolute happiest existence. I’m here to challenge you to make resolutions that really will change your life in a very good way.

Here’s the recipe for a truly terrific New Year’s resolution:

1. Feel for your future happiness. Get still, clear out the din of other people’s voices in your mind, and let yourself know what your heart is doing. Find the things it yearns for. They might seem impossible, or silly, or ignoble, or presumptuous, or selfish, or wicked. I DON’T CARE. YOUR HEART’S YEARNING IS YOUR DESTINY!

2. Once you’ve identified what you yearn for, resolve to receive it. THIS IS THE ONLY RESOLUTION YOU NEED FOR 2008.

3. Every day, for at least 5 minutes, sit quietly and pretend that you already have whatever it is your heart is yearning for. Actually, I’d prefer it if you did this little visualization many many times every day. But 5 minutes is better than nothing.

4. After picturing your desire fulfilled, completely let go of the image and return to the absolute present—this moment, not next week or next day or next instant, but THIS MOMENT.

5. Whatever is happening in this moment, accept it completely. If you are grieving, grieve wholeheartedly, and accept the grieving. If you are enraged, be fully enraged, and okay with it. If you’re bored, accept the boredom. Say “Yes” to the mess, whatever the mess is in your life.

6. Feel as much gratitude as you can for this moment (even if it seems awful), and for the fulfillment of your heart’s desires (even if it seems impossible).

Those of you who’ve read Finding Your Own North Star may recognize this as similar to Wildly Improbable Goals. It is—but I’ve refined the technique as I’ve experimented and learned. This kind of resolution-making is like magic. Try it for a year, and see!

May joy, excitement, fulfillment, contentment, and adventure fill this year for each of you!

Martha