With the Summer Solstice in the rearview mirror and the Fourth of July approaching, I must confess I am a bit nervous about winter inching its way back into my alpine town. Please understand, I am not a defeatist, but the all too brief, magical Colorado summers are the reason I put up with the extended winters here. So, when the days begin to get a little shorter I start to fret, forgetting all about how to enjoy the now and letting go of all that I cannot control. I mean isn't the last part of that statement one of the biggest dilemma's of human existence? Having lived with anxiety hovering over my shoulder most of my life, I have been repeatedly motivated to learn how to calm down and take life in increments by developing strategies that support my being in the moment. And now is an opportunity for me to practice. I want to enjoy summer while it lasts!
Here is a key point that I have learned from devoting much of my professional life to studying the effects of human emotions: The raw, impulsive ones, like fear, excessive worry and anger will absolutely hi-jack happiness and well being -- every single time. And, once these emotions take hold, they can have a fierce grip. So, if we are going to make any progress toward maintaining peace of mind (the foundation for inner joy), we have to be aware of the triggers for "negative emotions." Once they register in the primal part of your brain, which is where they originate, they will relentlessly travel the highways in your head with a single focus -- to snuff out all of the good stuff. Why? Because that is what they have been "wired" to do. Will they be successful? Yes (until you learn to interrupt them), since they have been conditioned to respond this way for a zillion years. You and I in our current level of evolution are still programmed to react to their messages. We have inherited this phenomenon from our ancestors, who needed to stay alert in order to keep from getting killed (the fight-or-flight response, if you will).
If you don't believe that you are inclined to operate like the clan-of-the-cave-bear-tribe, do a little experiment. I suspect that one of the easiest places to practice is in your car. Any scenario will do, but let's pick one. You have sat patiently (you think) awaiting a coveted parking space while High Maintenance Molly puts on her lipstick and checks her iPhone. Finally, she exits the scene. Out of flipping nowhere, Mr. Big Bad Boy suddenly swerves into "your" place in his ridiculously gigantic SUV, replete with deafening rap music. He then brings his unnecessarily large, gas-sucking vehicle to a screeching hault (right in front of your blazing eyeballs) and saunters away with a surly swagger never once acknowledging you and your pain. Now then, whether or not you blow your horn and call him a f+#%ing a*&%$#e is not the point. What does matter is that more than likely your red-hot-blood has reached the boiling point. Where is your compassion? Where is your heart? Maybe his need for the space is more urgent than yours -- like his throat is closing after eating peanuts or something. If I am correct in my speculation, you are probably not going to give him the benefit of the doubt here. And if that is the case, your heart just got overruled by your emotional brain. There is no reasoning with this region, once it gets its hold on you.
Fail-proof strategies for moving into the "happiness zone."
- Take a breath -- do not allow your reactive, impulsive, raw emotions to guide your world. You know the difference between response and reaction. If you act on your anger by screaming obscenities and honking your horn at the guy who took "your" parking spot, you are unlikely to produce a favorable result. Step back for a minute and get things into perspective. It is a parking spot. This is not a critical matter.
- Be willing to sit with your fears and disappointments for even a nanosecond longer than you think you can. Example: When I feel the voice of fear trying to get my attention, whether it is about the departure of summer or wondering how I'm going to tell my significant other that I have to go on a work assignment in the Amazon for six months, I've got to feel my fear -- sit with it, and then move through it. Will avoiding an uncomfortable conversation that has to be addressed be helpful? Never. It is only in my willingness to move through my fear by having the dreaded discussion that everything will begin to shift in a positive direction. Why? Because I am sharing the truth about something that is important to me. Try it and watch the magic happen.
- Go to gratitude -- the minute you feel yourself starting to freak (like OMG it is going to be winter soon). Stop and find something to be grateful for. And if you can't think of anything, appreciate that you can see the words on this page.
- Be in the moment -- to the extent that you are able. Establish a daily discipline of some kind of practice like meditation or yoga to support you and reap the benefits.
You have the strength, the will, and the capacity to upgrade into the "happiness zone." You can tame your inner beasts (fear, anger, worry). Go for it and keep us posted on your progress. Meanwhile, enjoy the summer!
PS) For the summer months I am making the Kindle version of my book "Happily Ever After Right Now... Stop Searching... Start Celebrating" available for less than three dollars. If you are inclined to pick it up, you can do so here.
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