Monday, 18 January 2016

On taking compliments

Lately, I thought about why I feel so uncomfortable taking compliments. It should be nice to hear that someone likes something about you, not stressful.

I find it especially difficult to deal with compliments when they are about something I am not impressed by myself. For example, when I am trying to establish a good habit or get rid of a bad one and my husband says "Wow!" I know he is an honest person and would not fake any enthusiasm, but my first reaction so far has been to think: "Why does he have to be so patronising about his?" And a bit of grumblegrumble for good measure. At least, most of the time I managed to not tell him off. From my point of view I am far from satisfied with my progress. I have an idea in my head of how things should be. And I am not there yet, so how is this wow-worthy? What I did was acceptable or maybe just mediocre.

From his point of view, I am in a better place than I was before. So relatively speaking, that actually is an achievement. I have overcome the things that held me back and started my journey. And he is a lovely person for reminding me of that by saying it out loud. So I have decided to try and see things from his perspective in this kind of situation, be a bit more patient with myself and see where that gets me.

I other cases I may have really dome something wow-worthy but somewhere along the line I have been conditioned on the one hand to be as successful as possible and on the other hand to not show off. Be good but be quiet about it. So if someone positively mentions something I have achieved, it upsets my whole system. This is probably also the reason I like a lot of things others do and sometimes cannot find the words to let them know. And also why people who toot their own horn about things that I do not even find that impressive sometimes trigger me so I find it hard to like them.

What I have really accepted in the last few years is that it is a big step to at least be aware of what is going on in this monkey mind of mine. With little steps and lots of patience I am going to use these situations where someone praises me for something and I feel uneasy about it to observe my reactions and to try and increasingly intentionally enjoy the kindness I received from the other person.

So it seems that what I need is more of that dreaded P-word and to keep shaking up the rulebook in my head about how to be successful. Well, I still hope to have a couple of decades left in this life so I guess the effort might be worth it.

Friday, 1 January 2016

About Compliments

One of my favourite minimalism blogs has an article on how intentionally complimenting others has positive effects on everyone involved. The author, Joshua Becker, suggested a challenge to include one compliment in every conversation for a set amount of time. Of course the kind words are supposed to be authentic and fit naturally into the situation, but the bottom line is that you try to encourage and praise anyone you come into contact with, be they your friends, the annoying colleague or a stranger that you meet by chance.

I really liked the idea of sharing happiness, being more aware of the people around you and ideally even starting a ripple effect within your environment. As the lovely Neelix of Voyager said: "It's nice to be nice." It really is. It doesn't cost anything and it has the potential to make both parties happy. However, I regularly found it really difficult to come up with compliments for strangers that did not feel somehow artificial and forced. I would even say this is normal. And I did not want to either feel like I failed the challenge or otherwise be inauthentic.

So after a couple of days of observing my inner dialogue while trying to come up with praise for others, I decided to change the challenge to "In every encounter be open for and aware of others and see if something nice to say comes up." This more relaxed approach still made me feel really good about being with others, friends, family and strangers while inspiring me with things to say that I would otherwise not have said. As a consequence I saw quite a few peoples' faces light up with surprised smiles and got a couple of heartfelt thank-yous. I felt more connected with and more interested in the people around me.

Not feeling too easy about taking a compliment myself and thinking back to the challenge of not judging others, I am going to intentionally keep up this attitude of active benevolence towards others. If nothing to say comes up, I will not judge myself, but if something does, the other person and me will be happier for it. In the end it may even help me to judge less and also be more benevolent towards myself.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Don't Judge, What happened?

The good thing about this whole thing is: I set out to judge less. So I am not going to judge myself for not following up with challenge result posts sooner. Still, I did the challenge and I found it quite enlightening. So at last I am going to share my new insights.

The following is from after the first week of just observing. Later, I took up meditating and doing yoga daily and getting in touch with my spiritual side more. This mellowed me quite a bit.

What I realised was that I basically judge others for being different from me. I always prided myself in being tolerant and open, but it seems that this is true only in some areas of life. In others I wish everybody was more like me, and if I see that they are not, I get angry.

What I judged people for: Being louder than me. Having different moral values and different thresholds for what is still acceptable behaviour or vocabulary. I judged my husband in his absence for letting his shoes clutter the space underneath the stairs. I judged my cat for trying to trick me into giving her a second helping of dinner after my husband has fed her. I judged smokers. I judged those who don't seem to want to be considerate towards others, or who appear  to be not very environmentally aware. I have to admit, sometimes I judged those who seem incompetent in some way.

I frequently judged myself for failing my own standards of behaviour or for being incompetent in something.

When I fall into these behaviour patterns, I am separate from others and sometimes even myself. And this hurts me. Also, the basic idea behind my standards is that I want this world to be a better place for everyone. You know, Peace, Nature, Solidarity, Freedom, Tolerance, all of that. I want to improve things, not increase my own suffering.

One sentence came to me on a bike trip: You can't change the world by cutting yourself off from it. The judging separation makes it impossible for me to change the world for the better and that is very frustrating.

On the same trip I really did find a symbol for what happens in my brain at the moment I judge someone: A guillotine. The sharp blade falling down quickly and cutting through the spine describes the process and its results perfectly.

Breathing in those moments when the guillotine threatened to drop or - okay- when it had dropped, really did help. And also not judging myself for judging others. I also realised later that meditating regularly has a ripple effect on the rest of my day, making me more relaxed.

Thinking "It is what it is." is in a way still difficult but also helpful when it does work. And even if at first I get huffy and judgemental, it relaxes me a lot to say those words to myself a couple of moments later. I don't have to completely avoid the habit of a life-time, I can just kind of groove out of it. I have time and as long as I feel better than before the challenge, I am happy with myself.

Opening my heart to people doing something I have the tendency to judge did not really work that realiably. Looking at humanity with more love and openness was also a part of meditating and from there it was easier to integrate into the way I looked at people than trying to feel especially loving towards someone I would usually judge for what they were doing at the same moment they were doing it.

What I take away from this is: More patience with myself and keeping the meditating-yoga-spirituality practice up. Seems to be really good for me. Who knew? ;)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Don't Judge Challenge

I have decided to challenge myself for the next four weeks to learn not judging people. This is less about me being nicer to others and more about what judging others does to me. Sometimes I have a very negative running commentary inside my head when I see what others do. Not about how they look or their clothes, but things like the guy choosing to buy a plastic bag at the supermarket checkout. The people smoking in a train station pedestrian tunnel thinking they are okay because from their point of view this is outside not realising I haveto walk through their smoke, getting really angry. There are things that on an emotional level I feel are "Right" or "Wrong", even though intellectually I realise that there are things that I do which others would object to according to their personal moral standards. So it is not as if I had the objective rule of proper behaviour.

Judging others separates me from them and makes me feel like the nagging kind of person I do not want to be. It makes me focus on what I believe is wrong with the world and also it makes me judge myself more as well. Of course I wish others would not buy any plastic bags or maybe eat less meat or not smoke at least in my presence. But I am definietly not going to change the world from the perspective of sittinng on a high horse deeming others "Wrong!" And this is even more frustrating, because I get all the negative energy and no improvement in the state of matters.

So for the coming weeks I am going to try and learn something about me and hopefully change in terms of judging people.

The first week I just want to observe. Whom do I judge, under which circumstances, for what and how does this make me feel? I am not going to try to change anything, just neutrally watch myself and take notes. Maybe at the end of this week I will come up with a symbol that I can focus my "Don't Judge Challenge" on.

The second week I want to establish a new reaction. Whenever I feel the urge to judge, I am going to breathe deeply for a couple of seconds, ideally meditating "I have enough - I am enough".

During the third week, at the first impulse of judginess I want to start thinking something like "It is what it is." I hope to come up with a fitting sentence during my second week. The aim, obviously, is acceptance of what is, so I get less worked up by the state of the world and my inability to change things just by wanting them to be different.

So far my plan for the fourth week is to consciously open my heart in those situations where previously I would have thought things like "How can she do XY!!!" I want to reconnect with others. Obviously, I am not going to hug everyone who smokes in a pedestrian tunnel from now on. But I would like to consciously see them more as a loveable human being than a stinky smoker who is out to annoy me.

I am going to takes notes and write a weekly resumee and maybe change my plan along the way. Let's see where this challenge takes me and whether in the end I will even judge myself less than I do now.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Joys of Giving Stuff Away

I used to read all those blogs about minimalism and simplifying and the Feng Shui of Clearing out your Home and to admire those people who found the discipline to go through all of their stuff. We have lived in this house for more than 10 year now and a lot of things had somehow sedimented into corners, boards, drawers, under the furniture and especially in my mind, giving me a permanent case of guilty conscience. It was so much, the task seemed daunting and even impossible. I just was not the kind of person to be so tidy.

For example, there was this one ambitious idea of sewing my own belly dance costume. Actually, I had bought the fabric, sequins, little tinsel stones and beaded fringes even before we moved here. So this particular bit of guilt was even older than those ten years and turned into one of my many UFOs (unfinished objects).

I think it must have been the combination of ToDo list system, New Year's resolutions, energising Yoga routine and meditating "I am enough - I have enough" that in the past few weeks I have managed to tackle the sediments. Someone had told me to split the work into 15 minute jobs. I am the type of person who does not like to aim low and then tends to plan too much and eventually gets nothing done. But this time I thought: 15 minutes is too little. But knowing myself, if I try for 30 minutes, I will not do it and get frustrated and soon give up altogether. So I settled for 20 minutes, which seems to have been the magic number doing the trick.

It is really astounding what can be done in 20 minutes. I plan for the sorting exercise to take place early in the day, writing down as precisely as possible what I am going to be doing, e.g. "Drawer no. 3 from the top in the cupboard in the living room" This helps me get really focussed and not look at the intimidating bigger picture.

A lot of the stuff had to be recycled, mostly huge stacks of paper, but some of it was still in perfectly good condition. As it turned out, there is a local group on Facebook for our little town where people post things they don't need anymore but don't want to throw away. So I made an appointment with myself on my ToDo list, taking lots of pictures and putting it all up on there. After a couple of minutes (!) I could see the first reactions.

I can really recommend looking for local giving away groups on social networks so you don't have to worked out how to ship things. I am really happy to see that the things I once bought, but which now weigh heavily on my conscience for not using them, can be valuable to others. Today I took some stuff to somebody by bike, even getting some exercise out of the whole thing. She wanted the sequins and frilly bits, because of the carnival which is traditionally going to happen here locally in a couple of days. So she is going to decorate costumes for her kids and I had another opportunity to get rid of physical and mental baggage.

In a way I want to say that if I had known before how much fun this is, I would have started earlier. But then I also feel that I just had to be ready to start. As I said, the synergistic combination of factors had to happen and I had to be in a state of mind where I realise I can be a gift to others. Maybe it's a bit of both.

In any case, it is looking to be a great year 2015 :)

Monday, 12 January 2015

Minimalist meditation

During my life so far I have never managed to establish a lasting meditation routine, partly because I am the type of person who tries to "just observe the thoughts as they come and go" and then ends up thinking

"Oooh! A thought! I have to write this down after medita... Oh right, I was trying to meditate. But afterwards, I just have to write down this idea, what was it again?"

So the thoughts never happened to pass like the poetically described beautiful droplets on the outside of a window pane.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this article on where they describe a yogic affirmation technique for self-love and acceptance. It uses two cycles of breath to say to yourself:

“What I have is enough.” 

“What I am is enough.”

“What I do is enough.”

“What I’ve achieved is enough.” 

And I liked it and tried it and still liked it, but I found it to be too complicated. At the moment I like things as minimalistic as possible. And I whittled it down to

Breathe in thinking "I have enough"

Breathe out thinking "I am enough"

When I do this, I think the words in German, but the essence of this to me is a balance of give and take.

The world provides me with oxygen and water and warmth and light and I can breathe in a physical manifestation of this life-sustaining gift. I do not have to worry so much about my life. Which is also a new one for me, focussing on what I have and not worrying.

I am a gift too, I have something to give to the world, symbolised by the air I breathe out. Sometime my gift is quite literally me breathing out by saying words, asking questions, singing. I do not have to worry about me being inadequate.

What I receive and what I bring into this world is in perfect balance. I do not have to feel guilty about receiving something I do not deserve and I also do not have to feel like I am being taken advantage of.

This is the first kind of meditation that I can do for any length of time, reacting to any thought that might pop up by simply returning to "Yup. I have enough, I am enough." I usually do it at the end of my morning yoga practice when I lie in savasana, cooling down. The nice thing about this is: I am motivated to do my morning yoga, because then I can reward myself with my happyness-inducing meditation and I will automatically do the meditation in savasana because otherwise I would just lie down, breathing and being bored ;) Five minutes of this is just enough to perfectly cool down and to get into the desired state of relaxation and acceptance.

To be honest, I have only been doing this regularly since New Year's day as part of my New Year's resolutions. But I can definitely see myself keeping this up. And I can't wait to see the ripples this is going to make in my everyday life.

Maybe you might want to try this too, if you have always wanted to meditate but never found the right way to focus your attention. Have fun with it!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Sometimes a ToDo list really is enough

Wow. I have not blogged in ages, deleted my old blog with yesterday and created this one here for a fresh start. Also because I have my other blog for zentangle and other creative things on blogger.

Who of us is not an expert in procrastination and keeping themselves from doing what they love or what they should do by running in metal circles and somehow spending their time on empty things, afterwards enjoying this lovely feeling of guilt and stress because of the ever incresing mountain of unfinished projects and tasks?

During the last year I went and trained for being a life coach. We learned a lot about ourselves and our personal strategies to stop us from making decisions and taking action. And I think this really helped me a lot.

But these days, being the beginng of the year and the time for Good Resolutions and all that, I went back to the good old ToDo list. One of those with definite appointments with my self for sepcific tasks. And you know what? I am getting a lot of things done, even those that I usually avoid because they are boring or tedious.

I really should follow the advice of those "time management" articles more often, it seems.