Victory by Surrender

girl jumpingThink of a problem that has plagued you for a long time—your weight, a loved one’s bad habits, fear of terrorism, whatever. No doubt you’ve tried valiantly to control this issue, but are your efforts working? The answer has to be no; otherwise you would have solved the problem long ago. What if your real trouble isn’t the issue you brood about so compulsively, but the brooding itself?

Psychologists who subscribe to a form of therapy called acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) call “clean” pain what we feel when something hurtful happens to us. “Dirty” pain is the result of our thoughts about how wrong this is, how it proves we—and life—are bad. The two kinds of suffering occupy different sections of the brain: One part simply registers events, while another creates a continuous stream of thoughts about those events. The vast majority of our unhappiness comes from this secondary response—not from painful reality but from painful thoughts about reality. Western psychology is just accepting something saints and mystics have taught for centuries: that this suffering ends only when we learn to detach from the thinking mind.

Judge not…

Learning to detach starts with simply noticing our own judgmental thoughts. When we find ourselves using words like should or ought, we’re courting dirty pain. Obsessing about what should be rather than accepting what is, we may try to control other people in useless, dysfunctional ways. We may impotently rage against nature itself, even—perhaps especially—when that nature is our own.

This amounts to mental suicide. Resisting what we can’t control removes us from reality, rendering our emotions, circumstances and loved ones inaccessible. The result is a terrible emptiness, which we usually blame on our failure to get what we want. Actually, it comes from refusing to accept what we have.

Victory by Surrender

Most of us see yielding as the ultimate failure, but that’s absurd when the war is between us and reality.

Surrendering allows the truth to set us free. And how do we surrender? Two words: Observe compassionately.

I recently watched television interviews with two actresses, both in their late fifties. Each was asked if she’d found anything good about aging. Both snapped, “No. Nothing. It’s horrible.” A few days later, I saw Maya Angelou on TV. She said that aging was “great fun” and gleefully described watching her breasts in their “incredible race to see which one will touch my waist first.”

“Sure, the body is going,” she said. “But so what?”

Ms. Angelou has said many wise things, but I thought “So what?” was one of her wisest. It expressed the sweet detachment of someone who has learned how to rest in her real being and knows that it is made not of flesh or thought, but of love.

The Fruits of Acceptance

There is enormous relief in detaching from our mental stories, but in my experience, the results go well beyond mere feeling. Surrendering leads directly to our right lives, our hearts’ desires. Whenever I’ve managed to release my scary stories and accept the truth of my life, I’ve stumbled into more happiness than I ever dreamed possible.

When I stop trying to control my mind—that verbose, paranoiac old storyteller—my thoughts become clearer and more intelligent. It’s a delicious paradox: By not trying to control the uncontrollable, we get what we thought we’d get if we were in control.

This thought pleases me greatly.

Is life just one damn thing after another?

by Pamela Slim

My cellphone rang yesterday.

“I can’t believe I’m calling you,” a woman I will call “Beatrice” said. “I don’t know where else to turn.”

“I read Martha’s North Star book a few years ago and, while pursuing a dream job on account of a man, actually made tremendous progress in my career. I have since received national awards for my work. I never thought it would be possible to get paid for work I love, but I made it happen.”

“Now my romantic life is a disaster. Today was a breaking point. I was in the Disney store with my daughter and saw an ad for a cheesy movie about a robot who finds love on another planet. I thought “Even a freaking robot finds love. Why can’t I?” and I started sobbing. My 25-year old daughter looked at me like I had lost my mind. I have been divorced for years and have gotten to a point where I am devastatingly lonely. I don’t even know where to begin to fix it. Can you help?”

This situation, while extremely painful for Beatrice, is a very common occurrence.

How is it that you can be really together in one area of your life and a wreck in another? Why can one area of your life skyrocket (career, love life, finances) and the other tank (health, relationship with kids, level of grunge in ring on bathtub)? Is it just a big conspiracy to keep you from being happy?

I think it is actually a kind and gentle way that life lets you chip away at improving different parts of yourself at different times. In the complex web of your brain, heart and spirit, all parts of your life are not always in similar states of health and harmony. This is why you see cases of:

  • The blockbuster actor going to prison for 3 years for tax evasion
  • The successful governor cavorting with prostitutes
  • The supportive husband and excellent father sticking with a dead-end, miserable job

We all become ready for change for different reasons. For Beatrice, her “Disney meltdown” was a cry for help. She realized that if she did not attend to this long-neglected part of her life, she was going to lose her mind. I have witnessed or experienced the following catalysts for major life change:

  • A father finally making a career change after learning that while he was working 200 miles away, his 3-year old son was crying for him in the middle of the night. Realizing how much he missed growing up with his own father, who had died in the Korean War, he got chills realizing he was not present in the lives of his children. So he quit his high-paying job the next day, and started a career working from home.
  • My own health crisis spurred by a toxic relationship. It took me getting severe pneumonia to finally take action to leave a poisoned relationship. Lying in bed, wheezing, with a strong fever and not even enough energy to reach the remote control that was one foot away, I realized it was time to change my life. I picked up the phone and told my best friend for the first time how bad things really were.
  • A successful young career woman radically changed her work and lifestyle after the untimely death of her mother. A now thriving entrepreneur who travels the world for a living told me that what finally moved her to quit her “secure” corporate job was the death of her mother. Suddenly, it became clear how fleeting life was, and she realized she was in charge of her own destiny.

Whatever spurs you to change, once you are ready, what do you do?

Martha’s Finding Your Own North Star is the robust road map for doing this work, and clearly lays out a methodology for how and what to do. Her new book Steering by Starlight expands and deepens this work. But if you don’t have a lot of time to read, here are a few shortcuts, drawing from some previous posts on this blog:

  1. Commit to working on this part of your life. Beatrice’s Disney meltdown moment was powerful enough for her to pick up the phone and reach out for help. She is interested in working with a coach to help her navigate what feels like the shark-filled waters of attracting a loving partner. Your defining moment will be different than anyone else’s, and may not even be voluntary, but it is worth it to step into the Ring of Fire.
  2. Examine your thoughts and feelings on this topic. Beatrice and I spent a short time on the phone, but I could tell that she had some powerful thoughts and feelings about love and relationships that were causing her a lot of suffering. Common limiting beliefs in the area of relationships can be things like:
    -All men are dogs
    -I am not lovable
    -In order to have a strong relationship, I have to give up my own needs
    -I will find love only when I lose 50 pounds/clear up my acne/finally get a nose job
    -Love hurts
  3. Once you zero in on some thoughts or beliefs that cause you suffering, apply the 4 questions from The Work:
  4. 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?


    Turn it around.

    Master Coach Brooke Castillo put together some more tools and information on Self Coaching here.

  5. Leverage the strength you have in one area of your life for others. Beatrice told me that she totally amazed herself with the progress she made in her career. Although the process she used to get there was not ideal (In her words, “I want to make sure that I point out that I wound up with the job of my dreams because I wanted a relationship with the man I worked with. He is one annoying human being and I drove myself to reach far beyond what I ever I had before because I was trying to prove to him I could do it and I wound up proving it to myself in the process. I wasn’t exactly trying to become what I became, it just happened and then I realized 18 years ago that it was secret desire I had harbored all along. I just literally came to the point where I couldn’t keep waiting for him but by that point I was at the top of my field. I’m not sure if you’d want to recommend that method to anyone – however I think it does fall along the lines of what Martha mentions about being so attracted to someone or something that it leads you where you’re supposed to be.”)
    Regardless of how you got there, if you feel ease and strength in one part of your life, use it to remind yourself that you are capable of taking on huge challenges and succeeding.
  6. Create a positive, supportive Everybody to help you along. In Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down? I describe the broad, generalized, highly judgmental “Everyone” that keeps many people from making progress in their life. You know that you need to do some Everybody juggling when your soul screams out “I must make a change in my career!” but your mind says “But everyone will think I have lost my mind if I change my job! When you surround yourself with good thoughts and supportive people, the process of change is much more manageable.
  7. Take turtle steps. Making major life changes (starting a business, looking for a life partner, cleaning up financial chaos) can bring up a tremendous amount of overwhelm and panic. If you try to tackle the whole thing, you will most likely end up on the floor of your bedroom in the fetal position. We are very fond of turtles around the virtual halls of Martha Beck Inc. (hence the photo!) and have seen the power of slow, steady, steps for making significant change. For a cool tool, try a 4-Day Win.

I am honored that Beatrice had enough trust to share her innermost fears with a total stranger (me). And that she agreed to let her own struggle be a point of education and support on this blog for others (you) who face similar challenges in your own life.

An encouraging sign? Beatrice and I are already laughing in our email exchange about the Disney meltdown moment. She was the one that suggested her pseudonym: “Call me Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing!” When you start to laugh at what has felt deeply painful and frightening, you know you are squarely on the path to your own North Star.

Happy travels Beatrice — we are cheering for you.

If you have any advice or encouragement, chime in with your comment!

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


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!