Posts in Stress Creators
Rejecting the old and rejecting the new.

rejection Last week I wrote about the realizations I’ve had about goal setting and some of the things I can incorporate more of in my life to make goals less like “have tos”. I also wrote about how it may not be my goal setting that needs fixing; that maybe it is the lens through which I view goal setting that determines my experience of it; and maybe I simply need new glasses.

I chose trees. Trees for me are that something bigger, something outside of the way I normally view the world, goals in particular. Trees are that something uncontrollable, uncertain, and incapable of being fixed.

And now I’m going to admit to you something which is hard.

This week I threw trees out the window. And the other things I wrote about last week too. I was like – way to go, you solved the problem that wasn’t really a problem, now back to the way you’ve been doing things forever because that’s much less scary than trees.

I went back to this really rigid way of viewing everything I am up to. Back to a place where there are only two options: do it all, perfectly; or don’t do it at all. And the result of this backwards experiment? I’ve spent all week trying to be superwoman at some things and quitting at others (like my event that I cancelled, for example – sorry about that). I worked a lot, I did not sleep a lot, and I arrived at the conclusion daily that there is just not enough time for all of stuff that I am up to.

Whenever I stopped for a moment I could see the irony. I was again in a space where there were so many things I “had to” do and not enough time to do them – my goals had become problems. And so I became really frustrated with myself.

I can see that I haven’t really got any more things done this week than I did last week, but the entire time I have felt way busier and under pressure. Like sleep was a luxury I could not afford without risking failure.

And now it is Thursday night and I am frustrated. I am frustrated that I did not learn my own lesson. I am frustrated that I could not be out in the world like the trees. I am frustrated for trying so hard to do so much... and yet at the same time, if I am completely honest, I am also frustrated with myself for not doing more.

I’m feeling guilty right now. I have not taken my own advice. I dipped my toe into the ocean of trees and then not knowing what exactly it would look like, how I could control it, or what the outcome would be, I decided to withdraw back to the comfort of my shaded umbrella (ahem, computer screen), instead of diving in.

I know I have been caught up once again in doing it all, and doing it all perfectly. And yet there is a part of me that does not want to let it go. I know this game. I’ve played it for a long time. And I’m pretty good at it...even if it may not be good for me.

This is me letting you in on my struggle with perfectionism and doing it all.

For all you perfectionists out there who can relate, I’m sorry, I’m not going to end this post with a miracle cure.

Instead I’m going to share with you the beginning lyrics of...The Logical Song, written and composed by Roger Hodgson:

When I was young

It seemed that life was so wonderful

A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical

And all the birds in the trees

Well they'd be singing so happily

Joyfully, playfully watching me 

 

But then they send me away

To teach me how to be sensible

Logical, responsible, practical

And then they showed me a world

Where I could be so dependable

Clinical, intellectual, cynical

 

Check out the full song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQfjIw3mivc.

xo,

Danielle

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The Problem With Goals

goal So here goes. I am facing a dilemma. Personal crisis. Life crisis. Literally. It’s possible the entire foundation of what I have been writing about needs rethinking.

Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but the essence of my struggle is this: why make goals? Do goals add to my wellbeing or take from it? Is the fact that I have set goals preventing me from being content with who I am? Are my goals frustrating my ability to enjoy the moment, to be content with where I am now? Do my goals leave room for spontaneity and flexibility? Is the goal itself the very thing that zaps the fun out of the doing, that turns the things I love into have tos and shoulds?

The answer I have come up with is equally confusing: yes and no.

Yes because in fact that is the way my goals have been affecting me. And no, because if I look a little deeper I can see that it is me who chooses to define goals and doing things in a way that disempowers me.

Here’s how it started. Two weeks ago, after arguing with myself for a while about whether I had taken on too much, I actually sat down and wrote out all of the things I want to do in a week. I estimated the amount of time it takes to do each thing, added in seven hours of sleep per night, eating and self care, and I came up with something that scared me: three hours on Sunday. The only free time that I had left myself in an entire week was three hours on Sunday!

I thought about this and immediately came to the conclusion that I had taken on an unrealistic amount of things. Unexpected delays, distractions, and the occasional inefficiency or procrastination would almost certainly take up those extra three hours every week. There was no room for spontaneity. No room to relax or enjoy an unexpected activity or conversation without failing to complete everything I want to complete in a week, which would lead to getting behind and failing to achieve my goals. I decided I had set myself up to fail, and since failure is not something I like, I decided something had to change.

So last week I thought a lot about quitting. What I wanted to give up. I even wrote a blog post about quitting. I was giving myself permission to quit something that I really wanted to do without feeling guilty about it. And I do believe it is important to empower our choices and not view quitting or changing our minds as failure. But after all that rationalizing I just couldn’t bring myself to quit anything. Not anything big anyways. I wanted to do it all.

So what is a girl to do?

My motto for the year is "nothing is impossible" and I was determined that there had to be another way. I started strategizing different possibilities that could give me the freedom and flexibility for spontaneity and to enjoy the moment, but still achieve my goals. I was stumped.

Then last weekend while in Victoria, I gained some insights into another way. I was visiting one of the judges I had clerked for and we were talking about life. I shared my dilemma with her and she told me some of the stories that make up her rich and fascinating life. She also told me something else, which initially I found strange. She’s never set a goal for herself. She’s never tried to define, or set out to attain, success. This initially shocked me, as she is one of the most successful people I know.

As I let this sink in over the next few days, it came to make more and more sense. Instead of being guided by a particular predefined outcome, she was guided by a deep sense of who she was. The words groundedness, intuition, values, principle, and integrity were constantly floating around in my mind.

I immediately liked this option. It left immense room for flexibility and enjoying the moment, yet I could still be guided by those things that are important to me. I thought with all of these ingredients surely I could come up with a solution to my problem.

An alternate plan was hatched.

I began talking these ideas over with a few friends and came up with an alternate universe. In this universe I don’t have goals. I may have some short term projects that I am working on, but there is no rigidity, no have tos, shoulds, and by whens. My direction in life would instead be guided by principle, by my values, and the things that are important to me. I would simply trust that my life would take on the course it was supposed to take, and I would end up where I was supposed to end up.

I thought I had it all figured out.

I ran my alternate universe by my life coach on Thursday. After an hour of trying to convince her that I had figured out the solution to life, fielding her questions about what I was going to do with my projects in this alternate world, and listening (a little grudgingly) to her suggestion that I may want to take a look at how I define the word “goal”, I was no longer sure my solution was as simple as I had made it out to be.

Although I wasn’t ready to give up on the idea, I could see that what I was trying to do was “fix” my problem. It was an all or nothing approach to projects and goal setting. Either I have goals and rigidity and what I love turns into have tos, or I have no goals and lots of flexibility and I can enjoy the moment.

I thought a little more about my alternate universe and how it would apply to each of my projects. Did I want to just throw the goals out the window? What about the marathon, for example? It has a defined end date; a date by which my training will be complete and I will step out on the road and run 42 km. How can I eliminate the goal on that one?

I was back where I started. Or was I?

While I was not ready to let go of my goals, I also was not ready to let go of a more flexible approach to life; one where I trust myself a little more to act on what is important to me, without having a schedule that only allows me three hours of free time a week.

I don’t know what the answer is. I just wanted to share with you my thoughts as I’m right in the thick of it. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you have some insights. Maybe there is no answer at all.

To be continued I'm sure...

xo,

Danielle

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The 3 Demons - who are you BEING that gets in the way of Creating a Life You LOVE?

demon, life, love, create, stress, struggle, problems, lawyers I feel dissatisfied and I don`t know why...I feel overwhelmed and there`s no end in sight...I am trying so hard and I just never get there...other people and things keep getting in the way...it feels impossible.

I`m sure you`ve heard people say these or similar things in describing their frustration with their current lot in life. Maybe you`ve even used a few choice phrases yourself. I know I have. But over the last year I`ve realised that these sayings, and my entire approach to fixing my life, was wrong.

So its time to get real about why most of us aren`t living lives that we absolutely LOVE. What is it that really gets in the way? 

The answer is...you. A demonic version of you that takes over, usually in reaction to fear. We become these demons usually without realising it, and without awareness of their powerful negative effects on our overall well being.

As with all things, the first step is raising awareness, so today I`m going to break each of these demons down, and hopefully make them easier for you to identify when they show up in your own life.

There are 3 types of demons we embody that prevent us from creating a life that we LOVE.

1. The Not-so-Visionary

The person who is confused or lost / without passion or purpose - this person says, “I don’t have a passion”, “I just don’t know what I enjoy, never mind love”, “I keep flip flopping back and forth”, “`There are so many things I want to do - I can’t choose”, “I change my goals daily, weekly, or at least monthly”, “I just can’t stick with anything”.

This person will be super organized with calendars and schedules and lists for everything. And they will always follow through on everything they say they will do. There will be no blaming, no excuses; nothing gets in the way. The problem is, their plan and their actions are stepping stones in someone else’s vision. They don’t actually know what personally makes them happy, or what their IDEALS are. For all their planning and doing, they still feel like something is missing.

2. Mad Scientist

The person who has no systems or plan in place – this person says “I know what I want but I don’t have enough time to get it all done”, “I’m all over the place”, “I feel like I’m always trying to do a million different things”, “I have no structure”, “I’m working so hard but I’m not seeing the results”.

Mad scientists have mainly systems based problems. They will know without a doubt what their IDEALS are and they will be out there constantly doing things and taking action with that vision in mind, but kind of haphazardly, maybe even recklessly. Their lives resemble a child throwing ball of putty at the wall hoping it sticks. Sometimes it might latch on to its destination for a little while, but it eventually falls and they have to pick it up and give it another toss. Long term they get worn out because their everyday actions are not part of a larger sustainable plan to get them to their goals.

3. Execution Excuser

The procrastinator / blame thrower / excuse maker – this person says  “I know what I want and what I need to do to get it, I just can’t bring myself to do it”, “I would but ________”,  “I will when ________”, “if only _________”, “I have no motivation”, “I don’t have good habits”, “I need more self discipline”, “things or people keep getting in the way”.

This person will know without a doubt what their IDEALS are. Maybe they want to be prime minister, or CEO of a national company, or an artist, or a revered human rights lawyer. It doesn’t matter. In each case the person will have researched their given field, and the people who are doing it, long and hard. They will know exactly what it takes to get to the top, and how to do it. They will have a well thought out plan for achieving their vision, but year after year, all they will do is talk about it, and make excuses for why they aren’t taking any of the actions in their well thought out plan.

The bad news...

Each of the above demons are fatal, in that each on its own can be sufficient to prevent you from living a life you LOVE. Most people however are tormented by all three in varying degrees, and different demons show up in different areas of their life. And there is no doubt that embodying aspects of each can also be a lethal mix. Even occasional visits from a demon here and there can detract from your happiness and fulfillment, set you off course, and delay or derail you from achieving a life you LOVE.

Now for the good news...

Happily, each of these demons can easily be warded off, or banished (in the event you are already tormented by one or more of them - as most of us are). The two main ingredients for doing so are 1) a lot of awareness and 2) a willingness to get outside your comfort zone.

Many of my other posts touch on strategies for warding off or banishing one or more of the above demons, and I’m sure to tackle them again in the future as they rear their heads in my own life, or as I come across some helpful strategies to share. For now, I will simply challenge you to raise some awareness around your demons - to take a look at the different areas in your own life and ask yourself this question:

Who am I BEING that is getting in the way of creating a life I LOVE?

xo,

Danielle

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It's not ok, I'm not fine, I can't do life alone - why the reasons we don't ask for help just aren't good enough!

I'm not fine thanks Today I’m writing about something that I’m trying to become better at: asking for and accepting help.

For as long as I can remember I’ve run away from all forms of assistance. From the “Let me do it!” response I would have as a child whenever my parents tried to help me with a task I was struggling with, to trying on tip toe to reach the cereal on the top shelf at the grocery store rather than asking to clerk to get it down, to pretending I understand something only to spend hours later trying to figure it out on my own. I’ve also let my stubborn independence limit me in more serious ways, such as trying to overcome bulimia for years on my own.

I used to believe that the only way to be truly successful was to be independent. Fiercely independent. I believed asking for help was like admitting defeat. If I needed help I had failed, I was inadequate and unworthy of success.

But what I've recently learned is that valuing extreme independence actually limits achievement and success. Everyone needs and would benefit immensely from the help of others.

So why are we so reluctant to ask for help?

Here’s what I’ve come to believe:

There are two main reasons why we don’t ask for help: feelings of SHAME and feelings of UNWORTHINESS.

As children we observe the adults around us trying to do everything themselves, we see the flashy portrayals of independence = success in the media, and we quickly learn to shut our mouths rather than risking being laughed at by of our peers for asking a “stupid” question. This is the shame factor.

The unworthiness factor comes into play in more subtle ways.

Children are inherently curious. They ask questions about everything. But at some point it stops being cute, and we begin to tell them “Don’t bother so-and-so, she’s busy.” “Don’t pester him. Can’t you see he’s in the middle of something.” We learn to stifle our curiosity and our requests for assistance.

But not only do we stop asking, we stop accepting help even when its offered. For example, somebody finds out we don’t know something (our secret’s out - gasp!), and then we hear the words, “Can I help?”

Sometimes the answer will be ‘yes, please’, but in my experience too often the response is, “Its ok.” or “Don’t worry about it.” or “Thanks for the offer, but I’m fine.”

Of course, shame is likely still at play here, but I also believe there is an element of unworthiness. I know in these circumstances I’ve often felt that what I’m struggling with is not worthy of wasting someone else time. I've felt an unwillingness to impose, fear of being a burden, or a feeling of guilt that we won’t be able to return the favor.

So that’s it for why I believe we so often don’t ask for or accept help. Now... (you guessed it!) here's why neither of those reasons are good enough and why we should ask for help more often.

First, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, a wonderful hard learned truth: NO ONE IS 100% INDEPENDENT. NO ONE.

No one has ever learned anything or achieved anything on his or her own.

And I’m going to be as bold to say that no one ever will. We all receive help in everything we do whether we formally ask for it or not.

For example, you are having a conversation with a colleague, and rather than asking a question about a concept you are unfamiliar with, you pretend to understand and then go and Google it later. Does that mean you learned it on your own? NO! It does not. It just means you are getting help from a much less engaging source. You are learning from the person who wrote the content that you are reading on the internet, with the assistance of their editors, internet service providers, and the author’s friend from the coffee shop who made her believe she could write the article in the first place. I could go on but I think you get the point.

The only way to learn anything new is from each other and the world around us. Period. So if this is true, why is it so shameful to receive help from others?

Simple answer: it is not.

No-one-Does-Anything-Alone

No one knows everything and no one can do anything alone.

Say that to yourself until you believe it because it’s the truth. There is nothing shameful in not knowing something or not being able to do something alone. If there was we would all have to be ashamed of ourselves every day until we die. I know from experience what living like that feels like. It is completely unnecessary, and a diminished way to live. So get rid of the shame.

Secondly, receiving help is not a one-sided equation. Helping usually benefits the person receiving the help, yes. But helping also benefits the person giving the help. Helping is rarely a burden on the giver. To understand the truth of this, just think of the last time you helped someone else. How did you feel? Burdened? Angry? Imposed upon?

Not likely. I would venture to say that you probably felt pretty amazing. Maybe you were grateful to be given the opportunity to impart some wisdom. Maybe you felt excited that someone else has a similar interest. Maybe the advice you offered reminded you to practice what you preach, and motivated you to make some positive changes in your life as well. Whatever the case, the overall effect was likely that you felt like a valued, worthy, contributing member of society.

The truth is we all love helping, teaching, and sharing our knowledge.

So next time you think you are going to burden someone by asking a question, instead think about the happiness and meaning you could bring to the person’s life by acknowledging what they have to offer the world is valuable.

I know some of you are thinking, ok maybe this is true in some circumstances, but I’ve experienced times when I’ve asked someone a question, and the person on the other end looked at me like I was wasting their time, or actually told me to stop wasting their time.

I would say firstly, you are right – not every person will be happy to help you with every problem. And sometimes, the person may be less than willing to help because they have their own problems going on, or their own schedules are overflowing. This is unfortunately much too common among lawyers, and can result in a lack of mentorship at work and hours of wasted time trying to figure things out on your own.

This attitude is a part of the legal profession’s culture that needs to change. But I also know there are a lot of amazing lawyers out there would be happy to help, and even grateful for the opportunity to provide some guidance, if only they knew it was wanted and appreciated.

What I’ve learned is, firstly, there is no reason to refuse help when its offered. Secondly, there is no reason not to ask for help anytime you are frustrated or struggling, the key is seeking help from the right source. In my next post I will discuss some strategies for doing just that.

For now, here’s what I suggest.

Stop stressing out about trying to do everything on your own. (And by this I don’t mean to say we should stop putting individual effort into our own endeavors. Of course we should.) All I’m saying is don’t beat yourself up if you’re struggling with something. Give yourself a break, lose the shame, and embrace the offer of assistance that is knocking on your door, or go out there and ask for it. It will not only make your life easier, but also will likely brighten someone else’s day.

We all have unique contributions to make to the world and each other.

reaching-out-together

Let’s help each other reach our goals, it’s the only way we’ll get there.

xo,

Danielle

Stop Catastrophizing! Life is not worse than it really is.

I recently wrote an article about the definition of stress, and why defining stress as an external thing that comes into our life is flawed. I believe that stress is created internally when there is a disconnect between our perception of who we are and what we have achieved, and our mind’s view of the person we have to become or the things we have to achieve before we will see ourselves as “good enough”. One way in which this disconnect causes stress is through the art of catastrophizing.

Here's an example that shows the power catastrophizing can have...

You’ve been working flat out preparing for an important application at work and you’re finally at the point where you are starting to feel confident, or at least more excited than scared. And then the day before, a senior lawyer comes in to your office and says, “Hey do you have that application ready? I’ve been thinking it would be best if I speak to it. You know how it is.” And you think, “No, I don’t know how it is! Why don’t you tell me?” But instead you say, “Oh. Right. Yeah, of course. No problem.” And you hand over your carefully prepared work with an even more carefully constructed smile.

Inside you are fuming. You wonder what it was that caused the senior lawyer to suddenly lose faith in you. You think you must have done something wrong. You think maybe the work you’ve done previously was crap, just no one told you. You think maybe they are going to start taking more of your work away. Maybe they are trying to find a way to get rid of you. You have noticed that your work load was lighter the past few weeks. You should check your billed hours. Maybe they’ve been writing off your time. Maybe you’re not quite meeting target. And then you remember another lawyer has asked you to come to his office tomorrow afternoon for a meeting, to discuss “an issue”. You had assumed the “issue” was about a file, but what if it was about you personally? And then it hits you, this lawyer you have a meeting with is also one of the senior lawyers on the hiring committee. Its all coming together. They are going to let you go. Or maybe if you’re lucky it will just be a warning. You start replaying previous conversations in your head, and suddenly it seems like there were signs you should have noticed. They’ve been disappointed in you for a long time. How could you not have noticed! Why didn’t you work harder? You should have worked harder. You should have gone to that breakfast function last week and sat at the firm table. You shouldn’t have turned away that file last month. You should have made time to do it even though you were swamped. Your head fills with things you should have noticed, should have said, should have done, should have done better…

By noon the next day you are exhausted and freaking out because of course you didn’t sleep and you are convinced you are going to be fired. Just as you are feeling an overwhelming urge to quit so they can’t fire you first, the lawyer you are to meet with that afternoon bursts into your office carrying two boxes overflowing with paper, drops it all on your desk, and rushes back towards the door saying, “Not going to be able to discuss this with you today. One of my other files has exploded. Just go through the boxes, try and get a sense of things, and we can talk about it tomorrow.”

You are caught off guard. You stare in shock at the empty doorway. Gradually your gaze shifts to the mountain of papers on your desk, and, through the layers of panic, it begins to set in: this was the “issue”. You let out a little laugh. Your heart rate slows.

And then your brain comes out of its shocked silence. “Shit. You’re an idiot. How could you have been so stupid? No one’s going to fire you. Why did you blow this out of proportion? Why didn’t you get any sleep? Why have you been stressing so much? You’ve been so unproductive all day. And now look, you’ve got all this extra work on top of what you didn’t get done this morning while you were busy stressing out so much over nothing.”  You are frustrated with yourself, but you try to laugh it off. You take a few deep breaths. You tell yourself, “Ok. Its ok. Now focus.”

I'd be surprised (and impressed!) if you say you can't relate in any way to this example. I don’t know how many times I’ve constructed scenarios in my head and made assumptions about how horrible things will play out, only to later find out I’ve been completely off base. And its happened not just in relation to work but in all aspects of my life.

These types of thoughts are the source of so much unnecessary stress, as most of the time there is little or no truth to them.

The world is not deliberately plotting to sabotage you. Your boss is not trying to make your life awful. Your friend is not talking about you behind your back. The guy in the gym is not thinking, its about time you started going to the gym. The couple you invited over for dinner is not thinking you are a horrible cook, and on top of that you have really bad taste in wine. Your colleague who didn’t say hi this morning is not angry with you and does not think you are an idiot. .

What's more likely true is... Your boss is so stressed out she has no idea what effect her behaviour is having on your life. Your friend is secretly envying your new hair cut. The guy at the gym is worried you are thinking the same thing about him. The couple you invited for dinner is thinking they wish they could entertain like you but their place is just not nice enough to have people over. Your silent colleague has just been informed by the principal at his son’s school that his son has been bullying his classmates; he is preoccupied and doesn't feel like small talk.

The truth is that everyone is so wrapped up in their own thoughts, stressing about things in their own lives, and catastrophizing their own circumstances, that most of the time the only person thinking negative things about you, is you.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we catastrophize things? Why do we assume everyone is out there secretly judging us, thinking bad things about us, and plotting to take us out?

Catastrophizing is our mind's twisted way of trying to protect ourselves from being caught off guard by negative emotions like sadness, loss, failure, and rejection. It starts with a fear. We fear that we are not good enough in some way or not deserving enough of good things. Then we play out in our mind all of the horrible things that will happen as a result of us not being good enough or worthy enough, so that when something bad does happen (and bad things will happen in life no matter what we do) we will be prepared for it.

And while catastrophizing may prevent us from being caught off guard by negative emotions, the problem with this approach is that instead of experiencing negative emotions only when bad things actually happen, we experience negative emotions much more frequently. We end up feeling stressed out and dissatisfied even when we should feel peaceful and satisfied. And we may even allow our fears to convince us we are not good enough in situations when we've done something great, and so we catastrophize, leaving us feeling stressed out and dissatisfied when we should feel proud, happy, and loved.

Catastrophizing has been the cause of so much unnecessary stress and discontent in my life and I hope this article helps you to become more aware of how catastrophizing may be affecting you. We would all be much happier if we could only just shut off that voice in our heads that puts words into other people's mouths and creates horrible situations that may never exist.

I know this can seem impossible to do. But there is a way and it is really a simple solution. And I would love to share it with you! So in my next post I will let you in on the thing that has helped me the most to stop wasting my time being stressed about how life is worse than it really is.

Take care,

Danielle

A deeper definition of stress

So what is stress and why do we have so much of it? In life we learn that if we want something (food, shelter, money, degrees, respect, love, friendship, knowledge etc.) we have to work for it. We have to search for it, take all actions within our power to get it, and take care not to lose it once we do. Things do not just magically appear.

Stress on the other hand seems to be the opposite. It arrives in abundance without any seeking, and once we have it, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get rid of it. We certainly don’t strive for it… or do everything in our power to get it…

Or do we?

What if I told you that most of us are working harder at getting stress in our lives than we are at getting rid of it?

I know it sounds crazy. I wouldn’t have believed it a few months ago. But the more I think about it and read about it, the more I’m certain that this is the case. In fact I now realise that I was going around making stress seeking decisions all of the time. But more importantly, I’ve realised that it is completely in my power to just stop.

It all has to do with the way we define stress.

I use to think of stress as a panicky feeling that came into my life as a result of external factors beyond my control. Essentially I believed stress was caused by INSUFFICIENT RESOURCES AND BACK LUCK.

I hope you disagree with me, but I believe that that is the way that most of us define stress. When we believe that we have insufficient resources (such as time, money, support, good genes, education, etc.) to do the things required of us or that we want to do, combined with an unfair share of bad luck preventing us from getting those resources, we get feelings ranging from worry to anxiety, to full on panic. And voila! Stress.

This definition makes sense, but it is a surface level definition, and it is really unhelpful if we just stop there.

So what is the true definition of stress?

If we dig a little deeper we can see that all stressful feelings have something in common: FEAR.

Fear of not meeting deadlines, demands, and obligations. Fear of not being able to do it fast enough even if we do. Fear of not having a good enough job; not making enough money; not getting married or having a child by a certain age; not having enough friends; not raising our kids in the right way; not being young enough, smart enough, healthy enough, beautiful enough, tall enough, skinny enough, strong enough, funny enough, inspiring enough, nice enough, interesting enough, ambitious enough, generous enough, successful enough, likeable enough, or loveable enough.

Stress is the fear of not being ________ enough.

STRESS IS THE FEAR OF NOT BEING ENOUGH.

Why does our definition of stress matter?

Responsibility. The only way to get rid of stress is to take responsibility for it. If we can agree that stress is caused by our own fears, we are taking responsibility for it. And if we agree that stress is more specifically the fear of not "being enough" it becomes something completely within our control.

Think of how your definition of “being enough” may be causing you to act. How full is your schedule? How often do you say “yes” to things knowing you will have to rush to squeeze them in or that may have to cancel at the last moment because you won’t have enough time? Do you agree to take on things at work even if it means not getting enough sleep? Do you agree to do things with friends or to attend events that you really aren’t interested in? Do you look in the mirror and then schedule in extra workouts into your already full schedule? Do you agree to do extra volunteer hours even if it means not spending time with your family on your one free evening? Do you agree to go for drinks with colleagues even when you are so exhausted you can barely keep your eyes open? Do you often try to multi-task? Do you try to do everything? Do you try to do everything perfectly? Do you just try to do too much?

If you answered yes to any of these things, I would bet that your struggle to do these things is likely what is causing you to feel stressed. I would also bet that the driving force behind all of these things is your definition of “being enough” and the fear of not meeting that definition.

When we define stress in this way, we can start to see that stress has little or nothing to do with a lack of resources and bad luck. Rather, it is our fear of not being enough that causes us to make stress seeking decision every day.  But I don’t say that so that we can start blaming ourselves for the stress in our lives and beating ourselves up about it. I don't see taking responsibility for stress as a bad thing at all. In fact its wonderful. If we take responsibility for it we are no longer powerless to it. It means we don’t have to accept it as a part of life. We can choose to eliminate it completely from our lives. We can choose to be free.

All we have to do is change our definition of “being enough”.

Acceptable Me

Hi friends! Today I want to share with you what I've learned about the quest for acceptance and the effect that it has on our lives.

Our western world allows us to hide behind all kinds of material things – doors, walls, houses, cars, computer screens, private jets, sunglasses, shower curtains, fake tans, and internet profiles. In fact if we wanted we could live our entire adult lives without being in the physical presence of another human being.  We could surround ourselves with all the material comforts we desire, interacting with the world only through a screen. We do this in the name of independence, but instead we become isolated and impressionable.

Our western world loves this. It feeds off it. It tells us that we need to buy things to make us feel safe, beautiful, and loved. But what it also does, which is even worse, is it teaches us to build mental walls. It teaches us to fear and distrust others, to make assumptions and judge the motives of others without asking. We learn to put shields around our heart and cages around our passions. We fear what others would think and we fear how they could take advantage of us if we didn’t. From a young age we begin to create an “acceptable me” to show to the world. The acceptable me wants the things society tells us it should want such as independence, financial success, power, and recognition. The acceptable me has a vocabulary overrun with “have tos”, “musts”, and “shoulds”. The acceptable me wants to be perfect, as “perfect” is defined and redefined by society. The acceptable me tells everyone "this is the real me" so many times that everybody, including the "real me" starts to believe it.

And so we live the acceptable life. We go to school. We study hard. We make friends. We say the right things. We buy the right clothes. We wear the right amount of makeup. We try every new diet or body building program so we can fit into an acceptable size of clothes. We get an acceptable job. We work hard. We work harder. We schedule more. We play less. We dance less. We laugh less. We sleep less. We complain about all the things we “have to” do and then continue doing them in our acceptable lives.

But we can’t really fool ourselves. We can feel it inside. There’s a hole that needs to be filled. Something is missing. The connections are superficial; work isn’t meaningful; relationships without “power games” are unheard of. And no matter how many achievements, houses, and titles we accumulate the hole doesn’t go away. And so we try to self-medicate: we drink, smoke, eat, take drugs, self-mutilate, shop etc. But the hole still doesn’t go away; it just gets filled for a while.

I see it kind of like a balloon effect. Whatever unhealthy coping mechanism we develop at first give us some comfort, some escape, a form of quiet rebellion against our acceptable lives. Immediately the hole feels like its been filled. We feel in control and actually kind of proud that we didn’t have to ask for help. We are strong enough to fix our own problems. We don’t need anyone. “Yeah! Independence!” But then we start to feel it: there’s a leak. We are slowly deflating. Soon we face the reality that we filled the hole with air rather than substance. We panic. We urgently reach for our medication of choice to refill it, but the leak gets bigger and we start losing more than we can put it. We inevitably shrivel up completely or pop. And when this happens, depending on the size of the tear, we either patch the hole, reach for our favorite medication, and start all over, or grab whatever is left of the shrivelled rubber, cling to it for dear life, and curl up in bed vowing never to face the world again.

Now there are some people have broken free of the “acceptable”. You may be one of these people, you may be one of these people on occasion, or you may never have experienced it yet. But we all know someone who is constantly free. They are the people that wake up excited every day. They bounce out of bed. They hug everyone they see. They are passionate and engaging. They are silly. They can have a conversation with anyone, and not just about the weather. They smile. All. The. Time. They reach out. They try everything to help others become as happy as they are.

And we think they must be on something. It can’t be real. We tell ourselves they are annoying, we may even try to sabotage their happiness. But we can’t; because it is real.  When we realise this we get angry and beat ourselves up for not being that happy. And then to protect ourselves from spiraling into an even worse state we go back to pretending. Pretending these happy, stress free people don’t exist; pretending that our acceptable lives are the only option. We might even say that we are stuck but that its ok. That’s just the way it is... and anyway, its not that bad, right? I mean it could always be worse...

Does any of this sound familiar? I know it all sounds pretty serious. But if you look deep within yourself you will likely feel you can relate in some ways. If you are completely honest with yourself, you may see aspects of your life that stress you out, that you are not happy with, and that you try to fix with “things”.

I fell prey to this trap for many years. I created an “acceptable me”. I took society’s definition of success and tried to follow its recipe perfectly. And it worked. My friends and family will tell you that I am successful. Society would have checked the box marked “acceptable” if asked whether I had met its definitions of success. But it didn’t matter how many friends I had, how much my family supported me, how much success I achieved in school and in my career, there was still something missing. I felt constantly dissatisfied. I got something, then I didn’t want it. I played power games in relationships. I put up more walls than a city preparing for war. And I tried to fix it by self-medication, working harder at doing “acceptable” things, and more self-medication. I pretended. I refused to let anyone (especially myself) see the real me.

Some of you may still not believe any of this. You might be rejecting my words. You might be thinking, “Woah! This girl is not like me. Her problems were obviously pretty serious! I mean, I may not be Mary Poppins but I do just fine. Sure, sometimes I have a few drinks after a stressful day, or eat a chocolate bar when I hit a wall at work but I’ve got it under control. Its not a problem. I’m fine.”

And that’s just it. You’re fine. You’ve got it under control. Life should not be fine; it should be fantastic. Self-medication is not something that we should have to keep "under control". Being fine is not something we have to accept. In fact, we don’t have to accept anything about our acceptable lives.

This realisation was recently forced on me, much to the resistence of the "acceptable me". I could tell something was happening inside me. More and more the hole refused to be filled, even temporarily, no matter what I tried. At first I couldn’t figure out why and it was terrifying. Then one day I realised what it was. The “acceptable me” was getting to live my life and the real me, the authentic me, couldn’t take it anymore. She was getting really pissed off.

The authentic me had been suppressed and her anger had been building for a long time. And it was strong. So strong that she’s been able to look acceptable me in the eye and say “Get out of here. Its my turn now.” She started taking each the “have tos”, “shoulds”, and “musts” that acceptable me lived by, and gently setting them to the side. She started showing herself to the world. She started living. She’s found her passion and she’s alive. (Sounds corny I know, but its awesome.)

So here's to finding and living each day by the rules of the real you!

Stay tuned for more on how to start doing this and how it can allow you to live a stress-free life!

Take care for now,

Danielle