Can I choose a nicer feeling?

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If I was not worried about this situation, but felt calm and positive about it – would that change anything for me?

This last week I have been trying a little bit extra to focus on my everyday fear. I always say that all emotions come from either fear or love. As if irritation, worry, anger, anxiety or frustration have their roots in a place of fear, while harmony, happiness, contentment and hope have their roots in a place of love. Like a “fear mode” and a “love mode”.

It’s natural for us to look for dangers all the time, since that’s more crucial for our survival than signs of kindness or love. We have done that for so many years that it has become the first hand choice for our subconscious – to choose an emotion coming from fear rather than considering one from love.

I therefore have to make a conscious effort to first realize that what I’m feeling is coming from fear.
“I’m worried.”
Then I have to ask myself what it would feel like if I picked a feeling coming from love, calmness for example.
“That would be much nicer and I would be much more relaxed”.
So I continue and ask myself if something in reality would change if I choose to focus more on being calm than worried.
“Maybe I would make decision that are better for everyone involved. I would probably be more creative. And perhaps more fun to be around!”
Do I have anything to earn from continuing being worried?
“No, I just don’t want to be naïve, but I can’t actually see that things could change for the worse if I changed the roots of this emotion from fear to love.”

Piece of cake? Not exactly. But interesting and a good way of growing and developing.

If you want to try you don’t have to start with the big fears in your life. Start with a little useless negativity that you have in your mind or body right now.

 Are you irritated, frustrated, bitter or low about something or someone particular today?
 What if you were not?
 What positive emotion could you choose instead?
 Would that be nicer? Want to give it a try?

Write a little note or place something symbolic on your desk (I have my symbolic bracelet that reminds me of today’s challenge!) or set the alarm and think about the situation and your feelings from the “love place” as many times as possible today.

“It’s a fact. That’s true!”

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These days we hear a lot about “alternative facts” and jokes about “the truth”, coming from the circus in the US. We laugh because we know that there can only be one true fact about something. You can’t have alternative facts. A fact is a fact. And a truth is a truth. Based on the facts most of the time.

At the same time we know how facts and statistics can be used in any possible way, depending on your purpose. Which facts you choose to report and which ones you omit. I’m a little bit troubled when I see how the different news channels, without even trying to hide it, clearly choose the facts that they think make the best “news”. How will the audience be able to see the big picture and be able to make their own opinion about what’s going on if they never get “alternative facts”?

And who decides what the truth is? Is it the conclusion someone at the news desk draws from the chosen facts? Is it something we have been told for generations or always done in our culture without questioning it? Can you make a reference to a god and immediately everyone has to believe that it’s a truth? Is it true because it’s the latest scientific proof?

I think that most of us want to live in a truthful way. So how come that we have so different ways of looking at the truth? It bothers me to use the word “truth” since that immediately implies that the opposite, or even the slightest deviation, has to be untrue or false. As if there only exist one good, true side of each opinion or action.

In honest, deep discussions I find that most people agree that everyone wants to be good and truthful, but how come that we too often completely forget that and look at actions and beliefs of people on “the other side” as if they were stupid, less intelligent than we? If I believe that my opinion is the truth, how can I accept that their opposing opinion is just as true? Not just true to them (no wondering since they are stupid?!), but actually as true as my truth.

I don’t say that we should be passive and just accept actions and speech that we find wrong, but I think it’s of great value to the overall development of societies, if we start by trying to figure out how it can be true in different ways to different people. Only then can we grow and continue the discussion on a higher, more developed level.

I can learn something from everyone I meet.

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Reading Swedish film director Kay Pollak’s book “No Chance Encounter: Meeting Yourself in Others” some ten years ago was one of those eye opener you get once in a while. Whenever you have any negative feelings towards someone else it’s mostly about you, Pollak says.

At first I had troubles understanding what he meant.

So that terribly annoying mom at school is not really annoying at all – it’s I who have a problem? And that far too smiling sales man is not embarrassing at all? It’s all about me?

Of course I had to do my homework! I remember so well one morning when I was waiting for the commuting train and I saw this young adult covered in tattoos. He had tattoos all over his neck and face and they were far from professionally made. One was even wrongly spelled. I became aware of my negative feeling towards him. So my first quest was to find out what I was actually feeling? I tried to be honest and realized that it was a feeling of despise. That’s shameful! You should never despise someone! So I breathed deeply and went further into this feeling of despise. Was I despising the fact that he had tattoos? No. Did I despise that they were all over his face? Maybe, but not really. That they were so ugly and badly made? Yes! Here I could feel in my body that I had hit the root of the feeling. But why did I despise that?

“It’s ugly”, I could hear myself thinking, “and you just don’t make yourself ugly!” Aha! “Why not?”, I asked myself. “Well, you just shouldn’t!”, was the agitated answer. I was actually a bit surprised about the strength in my feelings about not making yourself ugly and I started to scan my life and childhood about such situations.

When I grew up I was very tall with red hair, freckles and white eye lashes. I never felt ugly, but then I never felt cute or beautiful either. I did my best to look good, dress nicely and be as creative as possible when I was allowed to use make-up. I had always hated masquerades when you were supposed to dress like a monster or ghost or any other kind of ugly creature. I didn’t want to look worse than I did – I wanted to look a little bit better! How on earth could anyone even suggest such parties?!

So now you can also see where my deep emotions came from! The child within not being cute enough. Feeling a bit sad about this, standing there still waiting for the train, I continued the chain of thoughts and started to think about the man with the tattoos again. What he had done I would never be able to do! I wouldn’t be brave enough to go around with one fake tattoo in my face just for one day! So actually he was much braver than I … What a turn of feelings! I looked at him and smiled and thanked him in my mind for a wonderful lesson!

Since that morning I have done this exercise many times. And it’s thrilling and amazing to see how my irritation about that mom’s behavior turn into a lessons about me being afraid of making a fool of myself at the school meeting or being unsecure about my social skills in new encounters. And I can see now how every meeting is a chance to grow and develop!

Will I reach the top of the hill when I turn 50?

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We have all seen the illustrations of human ageing; the babies followed by young children and teenagers going upwards in a stair case or a hill side. On the top of the stairs or the hill is the middle aged person and after that it all goes downward with the retired followed by on old, crocked person with a stick and finally the cross symbolizing death. So how depressing isn’t it being on the top?!

“It must be around forty, when you’re “over the hill”. I don’t even know why it’s a bad thing. When I go hiking and I get over the hill, that means I’m past the hard part and there’s a snack in the future. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned”, writes Ellen Degeneres in her book “Seriously …. I’m Kidding”.

I find that such a great way of seeing it! It’s much nicer to think that in life it’s time for a “snack” and I can imagine that I will sit down and enjoy the view every here and now. The walk will be easier and not require the same amount of energy and perspiration. It’s a beautiful image. But is it true? Or is it just me changing my perspective because it suites me? To see my future as a nice downhill walk I find more enjoyable than a depressing slope towards illness and death.

I can without doubt say that I would never like to be a teenager again! But I remember that I liked turning 28. I felt that I had been 28 mentally for many years and liked that my actual age and I was suddenly the same. Then I stayed 28 for some years before I had to admit that I was actually 35. But would I like to be 35 again? The truth is that it’s impossible to compare. Today I’m living expat wife life in Shanghai, trying to support a teenager and a husband, but back then I had a hectic life with children, a career involving travelling all over Europe, commuting three hours every day and taking care of a big house and a garden – while longing for the holiday. But maybe it’s not so much about the whereabouts of everyday life, but the change of attitude.

Looking out from the top of the hill, I enjoy that what I see now is not black and white. During my travel uphill I have met so many people with so many different opinions and values that I today know that the Truth might look very different from different angles and that Good and Bad often depends more on the intentions and the consequences than the actual deed. That gives me a more relaxed mind on my way down. I don’t have to be perfect, because there is no such person, and I don’t have to know all the right answers, because there is no right and wrong.

I tend to be more anxious about my health now than I was going up towards the top, I must admit that. A bad knee was just something I tried to forget, hoping it would be better next month, but now I get a bit worried that it will not disappear by itself. What will the rest of the trip look like if it doesn’t?

My world view has changed in the opposite direction though. When I was young I took for granted that we all could change the world, today I’m not that optimistic …

I have come to the conclusion though, that the major difference between going up and going down on this imaginary hill, is that when we are working our way up we always aim for the next camp. These camps are goals that we have, like meeting a man/woman, get married, buy a house, have children, change job to speed up the career, buy a nice car, travel to our dream destination etc. Some might have very specific goals that they have set up, but most of us just follow the goals set by society, friends and family. Even though I’m a coach and I love working with goals and how to reach them, I think that the joy I feel now – overlooking the downhill path – is the lack of these unstated but life changing goals! The goals I set up for myself now are purely created from my heart, to give me and my family joy and harmony. They are not so much about things and positions, as they are about feelings and attitude. That makes me feel so much more in control of my own life. On my way down I don’t have to hurry up to get to the next camp – I can follow the stars, stray from the path to look at the flowers or sleep in that cave just for the thrill of it!

And isn’t it time for that snack now?!

Is my Ego just a lump of fearful emotions?

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I’ve been thinking about my ego lately. I read an article about the ego, saying that we will never experience full harmony and love as long as we are so deeply connected to our ego. But what is the ego? Is it an alien living inside of me or am I two kind of people in one body? I have started to think of my ego as if it’s all my fears gathered together like a big lump of emotions. Since we have learned over the years to connect different emotions with different thoughts – and vice versa – these emotions have a lot of thoughts already stored in my brain. Perhaps these thoughts of fear are what we experience as our ego. By “fear” I mean all kinds of negative feelings, like anxiety, worry, embarrassment, unease, anger, bitterness, self-pity.

Whenever I do something totally out of kindness, love or joy there is no ego knocking on my shoulder. I feel harmony and ease. The ego is absent. And if it’s not absent, it will for sure turn that good moment into something negative by telling me that this act of kindness didn’t get the proper response or that my love for someone is not returned – different kinds of fear talking again! The ego making sure that I don’t forget about it!

This would mean that in order for me to feel more harmony in my life I have to get my ego more and more out of the way. How can I do that? I don’t know for sure, but I will start by trying to take a closer look at all these little pieces of fear. What would this moment be like without any kind of fear? How would I respond to this person without any kind of fear? If I was free from all negative emotions, what would I do today?

Maybe that big lump of fearful emotions is like any other kind of infection in the body? When it gets too big it will start to affect me, and if not treated it will take over and eventually make me a victim of the decease.

“The treatment” could of course be a pill – so that I don’t feel any kind of feelings any more. Or perhaps a kind of vaccination – if I boost myself with even more fear I might be one with my ego and not think about harmony or joy at all anymore. Or I do it the military way – I attack! By investigating in my “enemy” I will get to know it and how it’s working. I can then form my strategy and finally attack the Ego. My weapon will be love and understanding! That I will do.

I’ll come back to you with further reports from the battle field!

Love will not make your marriage last forever

photo-1458413111252-87446cbff277The other day I met the priest who officiated the marriage between me and my husband 17 years ago and baptized our daughter some years later. It was so strange to meet him here in Shanghai! Last time we met we were in that old, beautiful church in Kalmar Castle. Of course he didn’t remember me, but I had to tell him that what he told us about the key to keeping a marriage together, has stayed with me all these years. So what did he say?

He said that it’s so easy to think that it’s the love that will carry you through all ups and downs in a long marriage. But it’s not that easy, because there might be days when you are so angry or sad that you can’t feel that love inside of you. Or days when your spouse is having health or job problems and you don’t feel as loved as you would like. Those days it has to be the will to be married to that other person that shall make you do the necessary work to find each other again.

Now I’m happy to have a very good marriage and I can’t really say that I’ve been that much out of love for my husband, but still what the priest said has made an impact on me. It’s not only the love to a partner that needs some will some days. It can be the love or good feelings for a friend, a job or an education. Nowadays we often get the message from media that we should only do what pleases us and turn away from difficult or boring activities or people. I think it’s good, once in a while, to reflect on what we want to keep in our lives even when the feeling isn’t the best. If I feel that I really want this relationship or job to continue, but in another form, then that will give me the strength to start thinking of solutions instead of getting stuck in negativity.

So the will to find new solutions or turning on a more positive perspective could be the bridge from the bad days, when love is not so present, to the good days where love can prosper again. I like that!

Reach your goals by creating memories of the future.

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You have probably heard of athletes who make mental images of how they perform on their top level during an important competition, win that particular gold medal or see their dream score beside their own name on the board. They do this to make their body and mind add an extra power to their normal training to reach the goals. But is it magic or how can it work?

It’s all about chemistry in the brain. All your memories or past experiences are thoughts connected to emotions. Let’s say that you gave a short speech in school and some of your class mates were laughing or even saying something mean. This made you feel very humiliated, angry, sad or frightened. So the memory of giving a speech is then chemically connected to a negative emotion in your brain. You might never again want to stand up in front of an audience. Fifteen years later your boss asks you to give a presentation of the project you are working on next month. You are suddenly attacked by a strong negative emotion and you almost panic. You might have forgotten that day in school fifteen years ago, but your mind and body has not. These bad connections happen every day and in fact they are the foundation of how we perceive and react to our daily life.

But you can use this to your advantage. You can actually choose to create new connections, which suite you better. Since we think about 50.000 thoughts every day, and most of them are negative, it might not be an easy task to change them all into positive thoughts, but you can start with the ones that are stopping your form reaching your goals or feel happy about certain situations. The trick is to fool your brain to believe that your created memory of a future situation is actually something that already happened. That way the brain – and your body and mind – knows that you can perform that good, because you have already done it!

The key here is that when you are in a very relaxed mood, in trance or dreaming, your brain can not tell the reality and the imagination apart. When you dream you have no control of the thoughts, but in deep relaxation you can be very focused and creative!

So you want to be able to hold that speech next month? You don’t want to panic and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself. Since “not” is lost by the brain (how can you imagine something that is not?), you have to turn your goal into something positive. Let’s say you want to feel calm and focused before and during the speech and confident and happy after it’s done. Now you are going to imagine this moment like a piece of a film about our life. You are going to look at this part of the film showing your future memory as if it was happening now. What do you see and hear in this film that proves to you that you are calm and focused and doing good? Maybe you first see a part of the film showing you looking at the audience, seeing friendly, happy faces. A college might ask you how you are and you hear yourself answering that you are actually feeling very calm and excited. Now comes the most important thing! You have to connect this scene to a good feeling. So you let yourself feel how calm and happy you are. Is that feeling in your stomach or in your chest? Take time to notice. Enjoy the moment! Now you might forward the movie and take a look at the part after the speech is done. You see how the audience is applauding. You hear your boss say that this was a very good presentation and you feel an enormous joy in your body. You are so proud that you managed to stay that calm, focused and that the presentation turned out so good.

Unfortunately you don’t change that old feeling from the memory in school that quick! Research says that your brain needs about 21 days to change a connection or a habit. But you have one month to go! So every evening and every morning, when you are lying in bed, you do your best to relax and put yourself in a positive mode and then you close your eyes and look at your film! Don’t forget the positive feeling in your body.

Does it work? Well, that’s how I met my husband, dared to make a speech and finally found a training that I liked – all in one month! That was 20 years ago and my old notebook by my bed is filled with notes on what I see, hear and feel for three new goals every month. Most of them fulfilled.

How I let my past ruin my present moment.

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Lately I have begun to notice how I worry about things in the future that all derives from my past experiences. Of course they do – how could I predict the future? All I have is the moment of Now and my past memories. But it actually helps me to react to my worries and ask myself what experiences and memories these feelings of fear or unease come from.

Then I can also ask myself if I am absolutely sure that this exact same thing will happen in the future. If I believe so (which is very seldom) – what can I do to prevent it? It helps me to focus on actions which I can control instead of feelings that I can’t change. If I don’t think it’s absolutely sure that it will happen, I try to convince myself that the worries will only make me loose the joy of the moment, my mindfulness, and peace of mind for something that has already happened.

Is the thing I am anxious about happening right in this moment? No! So the fear is all about something that does not exist, something that is not happening. Either it’s a past memory or an imagination of the future, based on the same memories. But it is not happening right now!

A while ago I tasted a fruit that I had not tasted before. “Is it good?” my daughter asked. I didn’t know. It wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t say if I enjoyed the taste or not. “What does it taste like?” she continued. I didn’t know that either. It tasted like nothing I had eaten before.

I could really imagine how my brain was working at high speed to try to find something somewhere in my brain that could make sense of the taste in my mouth! And even if my answer to my daughter was: “Maybe it tastes a bit like banana mixed with something” it was not the true explanation of the sensation of the moment. So I had to stop searching and instead concentrate on the present – to enjoy the happiness of tasting something completely new!

Our daily lives are like tasting new fruit every day, but since we mostly think the same thoughts today as we did yesterday, we miss the moment and keep ourselves stuck in old memories. We keep ourselves busy all days trying to imagine all the dangers and troubles that might meet us tomorrow or next month. Of course we have to plan our days and use our experiences when needed, but then let go and enjoy the Now, the thrill of not knowing what tomorrow will bring!

 

 

 

I can’t paint birds … yet

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I have been taking a course in Chinese brush painting and yesterday I went with two of my classmates to a store selling beautiful Chinese books on brush painting. There were books with bamboo, peonies and cherry blossoms, but many of them also showed birds, tigers, butterflies or other animals.

“I can’t paint birds”, I said.
“I didn’t think so either”, said Lisa, “but once I had tried I realized it wasn’t that difficult”.

Since Lisa is a very talented painter I didn’t think that that would go for me, and therefore I only bought books on how to paint bamboo and flowers. When I came home and looked through my books I saw that in one of the books there were instructions on how to paint a bird. And then I realized that I had done such big mistake! I work as a professional coach and here I had kept on telling myself that I couldn’t do something I hadn’t even tried to do!

Perhaps I tried to paint some animals or people 20 years ago, but even then I didn’t give it much training. I have all the equipment I need to paint and no physical limitations, like bad sight or difficulties holding the brush. So it’s all about my mind. I tell myself that I can’t do it and then I don’t have to try, because I already know the result of such an action. What a good excuse! Excuse for what? What would be the worst thing that could happen? If I stop for a second and think about it. The worst that could happen must be that I would paint a really ugly bird.

When I write it down, even I can see how unimportant and small that is! But I know that there is always a reason behind all our behaviors, so what is mine? It’s a much bigger one. It’s the fear, not to be good enough. Yes, there it is again; “The good girl” within trying to control the mature, balanced woman I try to be. Do you have that same “good girl” whispering in your ear every now and then too? She is so discrete I hardly notice that she’s there most of the time …

There are so many believes and “laws” that I follow, that aren’t true at all, but I have been carrying them for so long, never questioning them, that they have become truths. I know you have them too. What are yours?

I’m not good enough for this job (and soon someone will notice).
I can’t cook.
I can’t drive in this terrible traffic.
I don’t understand math.
I’m too fat.
Life isn’t easy.
You can’t have it all.

So I stare at that good girl in the mirror and tell her loudly: “I can’t paint birds – yet!”

What do I want?

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Why do I forget so often to ask myself what I want? It’s so easy just to go along with what is happening and what everybody else is doing. That goes both in the office and at home or with friends. I just do. I don’t consider other options, because this is what everybody does. I live my life in auto pilot mood far too often.
But sometimes I stop and ask myself the question “What do I want?” and then I always know the answer. I can let a Saturday just pass by without doing anything but cooking, taking a walk and pick up things in the house. Had I asked myself what I wanted to do with this Saturday, I know that I would have come up with several good ideas. Why is it so? I read so much about the Ego and how we in different ways should try to get Ego out of our way, so that we find our true self and what we are supposed to do. So why isn’t my Ego up and shouting about what it wants to do all the time? Is it laziness or is it actually some kind of auto pilot? I don’t know.
Sometimes it’s enough to ask the question and allow the soul a few seconds to come up with the answer. Sometimes it requires that I take a paper and pen and sit down before I ask myself the question. This of course has to do with my past in planning and coaching. I then do a mind map with my longing or wanting in the middle and all the thoughts that come up in the boxes or circles scattered around. It somehow makes it more real when I see it on a paper. The thoughts have gone one more step towards the goal. It can’t just disappear back in my brain and be forgotten!
This also goes with life in general. What do I want to do? The answer is often surprisingly quick and sharp. Not saying that it is always something that is as easy to turn in to reality, but that is a completely other issue. And relationships is another part that I think we completely forget to think about in terms of what we want. I have my wonderful husband, my lovely daughter and some really great friends around. I very seldom sit down and think about what I want with each relation. Thinking of it, I don’t know if I’ve ever done that!
What will happen if I, for the following week, start my day by asking myself what I want from this day? And if I ask myself what I want with this relation, before I meet each of my friends? Will it change any of my thoughts, my actions or my feelings? Let’s see.