Are There Limits to Forgiveness?

I’ve written on forgiveness many times, because it’s something that is very important to me.  I don’t think it’s healthy to hold on to hurts that people have done to us, even if they have never asked for forgiveness, and don’t “deserve” it.  I realize that forgiveness is extremely difficult in some cases: I was not physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by a parent, family member, or spouse.  I have never been raped, mugged, or any of the those other horrible things that some of you have had to deal with, so maybe you think I can’t understand how difficult it is to forgive.  And you might be right.  But I do know what it is to be deeply hurt by something that someone has said or done to me.  And I know that holding on to that hurt, nurturing it, has never done anything but bring me further pain.

So maybe my definition of forgiveness is different than most.  What I mean by forgiving someone who harms you, regardless of whether they ask for or deserve it, is that you choose not to let it continually rip you apart.  You acknowledge that the damage has been done, and that the person who did it is probably broken in some way.  This does not require that you condone what they did to you, or make excuses for their behavior, or spout trite phrases about how you’re glad it happened because it’s only making you stronger.  True, it may make you stronger, but you don’t have to be happy about the situation.

I have also blogged more than once about removing destructive people from your life.  And when you look at these two ideas side by side, they may seem contradictory.  But really they aren’t.  It is never healthy to have constant contact with someone who is harmful to you, whether it be physically or emotionally.  So how do we reconcile these two ideas?  Well, that is far easier than the forgiveness itself.  Let’s take one of the more extreme cases: spouse abuse.  Nearly everyone will agree that it is best for you to remove yourself from the situation if your spouse is causing you harm.  Completely removing that spouse from your life is far easier if children are not involved, but even then contact can be kept to an extreme minimum, and limited to only situations where you (and any children) remain safe.  Don’t assume that I think this is EASY.  I’m just saying it’s possible, and that it’s the best possible response to a terrible situation.  However, just because you have removed that person from your life does not mean that they can’t continue to harm you.  And here’s where forgiveness comes in:  only if you make a conscious decision to forgive (not excuse or condone) the abuse, can you begin to heal.  This is the difference between letting the wound develop a scar and developing “proud flesh” around the wound.  Make no mistake, whenever someone wounds us deeply, there will be a scar.  But if we are constantly ripping open that old wound, it will never have a chance to heal. You can choose to forgive without remaining in a place where you are at further risk. If you are in an abusive relationship, please contact someone outside the situation, like The National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local abuse resource; something of this magnitude is something no one should have to deal with alone.

Now that we’ve talked about such an extreme example, it seems ridiculous to compare the little things that people do to hurt us.  But I dare say that we sometimes hold on to these little hurts just as tightly.  When we have someone in our lives who has hurt us repeatedly, we start to assume that everything they say or do is explicitly meant to belittle or cause pain.  Maybe that’s human nature; maybe it’s an attempt to protect ourselves from future harm.  But I’m going to throw something out there for you all to contemplate: there are very few people out there who are intentionally horrible people.  Certainly there are some who are inherently self-centered and inconsiderate.  But most of the time, they do not consciously make the decision to deliberately hurt others.  Does this excuse their behavior?  Absolutely not.  But there may be a legitimate reason that this person is so emotionally stunted that they are unaware of how their words or behavior are harmful.

So at this point we have a choice:  Is it possible for us to sit down and discuss with that person the things that they do that are hurting us?  Obviously this is the ideal situation.  It may be that once the person realizes they are being hurtful, they will make changes to prevent it from happening again.  If it is a repeated behavior, the change may not be instantly complete, but we must make efforts to acknowledge that the person is at least working to change.  Because certainly there are things about myself that I am working to change, and I’m not always successful.  (Keep in mind, I am no longer talking about the extreme case mentioned above; I am not suggesting that a victim of abuse sit alone with their abuser and tell them how they have hurt them.  There are other, safer ways to deal with that situation.)

If we refuse to let someone know that what they are doing is hurtful, we can expect them to continue with the hurtful behavior.  We take away from them the opportunity to grow and improve themselves as a person, and perhaps we even fail to protect others from their harmful behavior in the future.  We haven’t even given them a chance to change.

So when I have advocated removing detrimental people from your life, I have been talking about those who have been told that they are harming us yet willfully continue to do so.  If there is someone in your life who continually puts you down, belittles your life/dating/career choices, or otherwise makes you feel small and worthless, even after you have tried to express to them how this hurts you, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  Like I’ve said before, it’s not always possible to remove them from your life completely, but it is possible to limit their opportunities to hurt you.

If there is someone who is constantly attempting to suck you into their drama, constantly wailing and bemoaning all the little things that are wrong with their life, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  We should definitely strive to have more positive people in our lives than negative ones.  Does this mean that we abandon friends when they are going through a tough time?  Of course not.  I’m talking about those people who refuse to see the positives in their lives, regardless of how much they have going for them.  I’m talking about people who would rather complain about what they don’t have than be thankful for what they do.  If you have attempted to point out to that person how their negative attitude is harmful to themselves and others, but they shrug it off by saying that’s just the way they are, then they are not interested in growing and changing and they don’t need to be a huge influence on your life.  But don’t just cut them out of your life without giving them a chance to better themselves. And acknowledge their attempt to change, even if that change is slow.

I have really been struggling lately not to fall into the “poor me” trap.  It’s hard some days not to think, “Ugh, I’m so miserable, why me?”  There are few days that I can honestly say that my pain level and my energy level allow me to behave like a “normal” forty-two-year-old, performing tasks that I SHOULD still be capable of at my age.  Most days I feel more like eighty than forty.  Some days I am in mourning for the loss of my youth, and all the things I wanted to do with my life.  Some days I find it easier than others to remember that before I was diagnosed with Addison’s, one of the very real possibilities was MS, which would unequivocally been far worse. I truly hope that if I get to the point where I am spending too much time wallowing in self-pity and I’m bringing others around me down, that someone will tell me rather than just cut me out of their life because I’m too depressing.

So I guess what I’m saying is the same thing that most of my posts come down to: balance.  We have to strike a balance between forgiveness and protecting ourselves.   Balance between giving people the benefit of the doubt and realizing they’re not interested in changing.  Balance between being there for someone going through a rough time and keeping our own positive outlook on life.  It’s not an easy balance to maintain.  But it’s definitely worth the struggle.

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The Quest for Enough

The idea of minimalism really resonates with me.  I’m not sure why I find it so appealing, except that I’ve never really been a big one for “stuff”, and it seems to generally cause more trouble than it’s worth.  But here’s the deal: it’s not the stuff itself that’s the problem.  It’s the attitude that the stuff is necessary for happiness.  That we have to own as much stuff as the next guy in order to prove that we’re as successful.  And sometimes we adopt the same attitude with other things in our lives as well.  I need to have not just the stuff, but the prestige, the house, the location, perfect body, the whatever.  And we even compare ourselves to others in completely abstract ways.  I need to be the most minimalist minimalist, the most eco-minded eco-warrior, the most successful, the most surviviest, whatever draws you.

Whatever things or accomplishments we want, we’re never going to be satisfied until we’ve got enough.  The problem comes in when we inappropriately define “enough”.  If it’s always more than what we have, we’ll never reach it.  While I’m not sure I want to pledge to not buy new clothes for a year, this post from Becoming Minimalist really points out our difficulties with contentment.

It might seem like I post on contentment a lot, and I guess I do.  Part of it may be because I struggle with it myself.  But part of it is because I think this is one of the biggest problems in western society.  We are never satisfied with what we have, because instead of seeing how much more we have than others, we look at those who have more than us.  This applies to belongings, homes, cars, spouses, just about everything.  Even primarily internal things (like wanting to be more minimalist) can become an issue if we allow ourselves to become discontent with the level that we’ve reached.

Now I’m not encouraging a sense of complacency, either.  We should be striving to improve ourselves where we can.  The problem occurs when we start beating ourselves up about what we haven’t yet achieved, instead of seeing how far we’ve come.  This can happen in any endeavor.  We can’t be proud of the 10 lbs we’ve lost, because we have another X lbs we want to lose.  We can’t be pleased with the progress, because we haven’t reached the goal.  This is why it’s recommended to break a large goal down into multiple smaller ones, that way we can celebrate the little accomplishments on the way to the big one.

But here’s the crux of the matter, and I know I keep harping on this, but I think it bears repeating (because I know I need to hear it continually):  We need to stop comparing ourselves to others.  I can’t be the best you; I can only be the best me.  You can’t be the best me; you can only be the best you.  It has taken me about 40 years to realize the truth of this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to constantly remind myself.  I have to be happy with the baby steps that I’m capable of taking today, knowing that even if I’m not speeding towards my goal, at least I’m making progress in the right direction.

So today I want to encourage you.  Don’t look around; look at yourself.  Don’t agonize about how much farther you have to go until you’ve achieved success (no matter what the goal is); look into your own past and see how much progress you’ve made.  If you feel like you’re not heading in the direction of your goals, make the necessary course corrections.  Go back to school, take on an apprenticeship, ask for on-the-job training, join a gym, find a co-conspirator working toward the same goal, whatever will help you reach the goals you’ve set for yourself.  And celebrate the tiniest successes.  No matter how slow your progress seems, it’s still progress.  Keep on keepin’ on.

A Ray of Sunshine Instead of a Rain Cloud

Let’s talk about cooking for a bit, shall we?  Imagine a big pot of your favorite comfort food slowly simmering on the stove.  It might be stew, or chili, or potato soup, or gumbo, or veggie soup.  You’ve been working on it all day, and you just taste tested it; it may be your best batch ever.  Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, perfect blend of ingredients.  You can’t wait to sit down and have a nice big serving, maybe two.  But then someone comes along and throws in a big chunk of rancid meat.  Or a tiny vial of poison.  Or a ladle of sewage.  Suddenly you’re not so apt on eating that perfect bowl of comfort food.

There are a lot of phrases we use to symbolize this idea:  one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, a little yeast leavens the whole batch, etc.  While I’m not sure it’s quite as absolute as my above example (would you just scoop out the offending item and eat a bowl anyway?), I truly believe that even little bits of negative garbage can have a drastic effect on our lives.  And if it happens often, it becomes a real problem.

If we surround ourselves with people who put us down, put others down, or put themselves down, we’re going to end up being down.  That’s just how it works.  It’s even worse if WE’RE the person putting everyone down, including ourselves.  Think about the things that come out of your mouth (or end up as your Facebook status): I hate my boss; he/she is horrible.  I can’t stand so-and-so; they’re so intolerable.  I hate my body; I wish x-y-z was different/prettier/better.   The reason the country is being ruined is because of (insert least favorite politician here).  If you find that statements like these outweigh more positive statements, you may want to rethink that choice.

Do you really want to be the one who chucks poison or sewage in everyone else’s stew?  Do you want to continue to throw those things into your own stew?

Perhaps your boss IS horrible.  But if you do in fact have a boss, that means you’re employed.  And while circumstances are not an excuse for being horrible to another human being, you don’t know your boss’s back story.  There may be something going on that is consuming his life right now, or something in his past that has left him like that.

Maybe your body is not exactly how you’d like it to be.  Stop focusing on what you hate about it.  Change the things you can (and be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight), and stop whining about the things you can’t change.  Find something about your body that you really like, and think of that when another self-berating thought pops up.

I know everyone gets sick sometimes, and I don’t have the least bit of problem with the occasional, “Ugh, this illness is really kicking my butt” statement.  But if every single post is whining about every single ache and pain, people begin to wonder if anything good ever happens to you.

And I said I was pretty much going to avoid politics on this blog, but I have seen so much negative garbage lately, it makes me ill.  I have seriously considered “un-friending” some people just because their status updates are nothing but constant political poison.  Regardless of your political affiliations, there are two things you need to get through your skull:  one person cannot single-handedly destroy our nation, nor can one person single-handedly bring it out of the difficulties we’re in.  Nobody has that much power.  If you disagree, you were clearly not paying attention in government/economics in high school.  I invite you to educate yourself–there’s this really cool resource called the internet that’s great for that sort of thing.  I might recommend that you avoid sites that pat you on the back for spewing poison, though.  That’s not really going to help the issue.  Nor is it likely to educate you.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy habit to break.  You have to completely retrain your mind.  And hijack your mouth, most of the time.  And then you’ve got to nail those internal thoughts as well.  Like I’ve said before, you can’t control when a negative thought pops into your brain, but you CAN decide how long it gets to stay there, and whether it makes it out of your mouth (or onto your FB page).

While I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution (not really my thing), I do intend to continue working to improve myself in this area.  I have a ways to go yet, but I think progress has been made.  It’s very important to me that I am a source of positive input to my friends and family instead of being a constant rain cloud.  Excuse my Pollyanna moment for the day, but I’d rather be a ray of sunshine.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite episode of Doctor Who:  

The Doctor, after Amy is heartbroken that they couldn’t save a friend: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.  We definitely added to his pile of good things.”

May I always be mindful of whether I am adding to others’ piles of good things, and may I not add to their pile of bad things.

How to Stay Healthier This Winter

On the heels of the nastiest storm we’ve seen in quite a while, we may be bracing ourselves for a pretty harsh winter.  To minimize our chances of getting sick, we know that we should wash our hands often, try to avoid people who are sick, and take our vitamins (because no matter how much we TRY to eat well, it’s likely we’re still missing something).  We might supplement with vitamin D and a few others, or try to boost our immune systems with Echinacea and zinc.

But how much does our attitude affect our health?  This article on the Mayo Clinic site discusses how positive thinking can have a dramatic effect on your health.

How do you react when you first start feeling like you’re coming down with something?  Do you try to stay positive that you might have caught it before it got too bad?  Or do you bemoan how terrible you feel, and how certain you are that it’s only going to get worse?

I’m not trying to say that positive thinking can keep you from ever getting sick.  A virus is a virus, and sometimes they just get us.  That’s what they’re designed to do, of course.  But keeping a generally positive attitude can do several things for you.  First, it gives a boost to your immune system, thus making it harder for the invader to get a foothold in the first place.  Second, it allows that heightened immune system to fight the invader more effectively and evict it sooner if it actually does manage to get through your defenses.  Third, it makes the recovery time more pleasant for you and those around you.

Positive people also generally tend to be kinder to themselves and take better care of themselves.  They eat better, get up off the couch and get moving more (but NOT obsessively exercise), and make healthier life choices (such as not smoking).  All of those things are certainly going to have a positive impact on your overall health.

“But I’m just not naturally a positive person!  I can’t be Pollyannna all the time!”  I call bull.  While some people do seem to have a naturally positive attitude, and some seem to be Eeyore, when it comes right down to it, most of your attitude is a conditioned, trained response.  Which means that if you WANT to, you CAN un-learn your bad habits.  Again, this may come easier to some people than to others.  But I truly believe that everyone can improve their outlook if they are willing to give it some work.

It all begins with self-talk.  We internalize everything that happens to us.  Those things that pop into our heads, unbidden, are often not very positive.  The stuff we say to ourselves has far more impact on us than anything that comes from outside.  True, we may be hearing bad stuff about ourselves from the outside, but it’s not until we believe those things to be true about ourselves and beat ourselves up about them that they really begin to harm us.

We may not have much control over the fleeting negative thoughts that pop into our minds without invitation, but we certainly CAN control how much we dwell on them.  We can decide whether we kick them to the curb immediately or allow them to take up permanent residence in our thoughts.

When faced with the thought “I am a horrible person because of X”, we can choose whether we agree with that mental negative and berate ourselves for every wrong thing we’ve ever done, or we can choose to contradict that thought with this:  “Yes, I may have made x mistake, but I have also done x, y, z, etc positive things”.  Counter the “Oh, I’m so miserable because I have this disease or that illness, or I’m just sick all the time, or I have no motivation or willpower or blah, blah, blah” with “no, I don’t like where I am right now, but I don’t have to stay here forever”.  Temporary illness will pass, and lifelong illness can be dealt with.  Sometimes life sucks.  It is what it is. But there are also plenty of things that don’t suck.  You can choose to constantly complain about all the suckiness, or make the best you can of a bad situation.

As for the motivation and willpower thing, ask yourself if you really don’t like that aspect of your character.  If it’s not something that really bothers you, then quit bemoaning it.  If it IS something that you don’t like about yourself, then CHANGE IT.  Don’t keep talking about how much you don’t like it.

It’s not going to happen overnight.  It will not be easy to overcome years of conditioning.  We may have fallen into the negative self-talk habit so often that we aren’t really aware of it any more.  But we can retrain ourselves out of even the most ingrained of bad habits.  Is it going to take a lot of work?  Probably.  But it’s so worth it.  Your health and well-being depend on it.

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget

This is another great post by Becoming Minimalist.  It helps to redirect the focus towards what really matters in life, not stuff, but people and our relationships.

Read on…

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

I have countless holiday memories. Most of them center around faith, family, and traditions.

Very few childhood memories actually include the gifts I received. I distinctly remember the year that I got a blue dirt bike, the evening my brother and I received a Nintendo, and opening socks every year from my grandparents. But other than that, my gift-receiving memories are pretty sparse. Which got me thinking… what type of gifts can we give to our children that they will never forget? What gifts will truly impact their lives and change them forever?

To that end, here is an alphabetical list of 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.

  1. Affirmation. Sometimes one simple word of affirmation can change an entire life. So make sure your children know how much you appreciate them. And then, remind them every chance you get.
  2. Art. With the advent of the Internet, everyone who wants to create… can. The world just needs more people who want to…
  3. Challenge. Encourage your child to dream big dreams. In turn, they will accomplish more than they thought possible… and probably even more than you thought possible.
  4. Compassion/Justice. Life isn’t fair. It never will be – there are just too many variables. But when a wrong has been committed or a playing field can be leveled, I want my child to be active in helping to level it.
  5. Contentment. The need for more is contagious. Therefore, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is an appreciation for being content with what they have… but not with who they are. (I think I know what he meant by this, that we should strive to continually improve ourselves, but I’m not sure I liked the word choice here.  Our kids need to learn to love themselves just as they are, even though they know there’s always room for improvement and growth.  We just don’t want to encourage stagnation.)
  6. Curiosity. Teach your children to ask questions about who, what, where, how, why, and why not. “Stop asking so many questions” are words that should never leave a parents’ mouth.
  7. Determination. One of the greatest determining factors in one’s success is the size of their will. How can you help grow your child’s today?
  8. Discipline. Children need to learn everything from the ground-up including appropriate behaviors, how to get along with others, how to get results, and how to achieve their dreams. Discipline should not be avoided or withheld. Instead, it should be consistent and positive.
  9. Encouragement. Words are powerful. They can create or they can destroy. The simple words that you choose to speak today can offer encouragement and positive thoughts to another child. Or your words can send them further into despair. So choose them carefully.
  10. Faithfulness to your Spouse. Faithfulness in marriage includes more than just our bodies. It also includes our eyes, mind, heart, and soul. Guard your sexuality daily and devote it entirely to your spouse. Your children will absolutely take notice.
  11. Finding Beauty. Help your children find beauty in everything they see… and in everyone they meet.
  12. Generosity. Teach your children to be generous with your stuff so that they will become generous with theirs.
  13. Honesty/Integrity. Children who learn the value and importance of honesty at a young age have a far greater opportunity to become honest adults. And honest adults who deal truthfully with others tend to feel better about themselves, enjoy their lives more, and sleep better at night.
  14. Hope. Hope is knowing and believing that things will get better and improve. It creates strength, endurance, and resolve. And in the desperately difficult times of life, it calls us to press onward.
  15. Hugs and Kisses. I once heard the story of a man who told his 7-year old son that he had grown too old for kisses. I tear up every time I think of it. Know that your children are never too old to receive physical affirmation of your love for them.
  16. Imagination. If we’ve learned anything over the past 20 years, it’s that life is changing faster and faster with every passing day. The world tomorrow looks nothing like the world today. And the people with imagination are the ones not just living it, they are creating it.
  17. Intentionality. I believe strongly in intentional living and intentional parenting. Slow down, consider who you are, where you are going, and how to get there. And do the same for each of your children.
  18. Your Lap. It’s the best place in the entire world for a book, story, or conversation. And it’s been right in front of you the whole time.
  19. Lifelong Learning. A passion for learning is different from just studying to earn a grade or please teachers. It begins in the home. So read, ask questions, analyze, and expose. In other words, learn to love learning yourself.
  20. Love. …but the greatest of these is love.
  21. Meals Together. Meals provide unparalleled opportunity for relationship, the likes of which can not be found anywhere else. So much so, that a family that does not eat together does not grow together.
  22. Nature. Children who learn to appreciate the world around them take care of the world around them. As a parent, I am frequently asking my kids to keep their rooms inside the house neat, clean, and orderly. Shouldn’t we also be teaching them to keep their world outside neat, clean, and orderly?
  23. Opportunity. Kids need opportunities to experience new things so they can find out what they enjoy and what they are good at. And contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to require much money.
  24. Optimism. Pessimists don’t change the world. Optimists do.
  25. Peace. On a worldwide scale, you may think this is out of our hands. But in relation to the people around you, this is completely within your hands… and that’s a darn good place to start.
  26. Pride. Celebrate the little things in life. After all, it is the little accomplishments in life that become the big accomplishments.
  27. Room to Make mistakes. Kids are kids. That’s what makes them so much fun… and so desperately in need of your patience. Give them room to experiment, explore, and make mistakes.
  28. Self-Esteem. People who learn to value themselves are more likely to have self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. As a result, they are more likely to become adults who respect their values and stick to them… even when no one else is.
  29. Sense of Humor. Laugh with your children everyday… for your sake and theirs.
  30. Spirituality. Faith elevates our view of the universe, our world, and our lives. We would be wise to instill into our kids that they are more than just flesh and blood taking up space. They are also made of mind, heart, soul, and will. And decisions in their life should be based on more than just what everyone else with flesh and blood is doing.
  31. Stability. A stable home becomes the foundation on which children build the rest of their lives. They need to know their place in the family, who they can trust, and who is going to be there for them. Don’t keep changing those things.
  32. Time. The gift of time is the one gift you can never get back or take back. So think carefully about who (or what) is getting yours.
  33. Undivided Attention. Maybe this imagery will be helpful: Disconnect to Connect.
  34. Uniqueness. What makes us different is what makes us special. Uniqueness should not be hidden. It should be proudly displayed for all the world to see, appreciate, and enjoy.
  35. A Welcoming Home. To know that you can always come home is among the sweetest and most life-giving assurances in all the world. Is your home breathing life into your child?

Of course, none of these gifts are on sale at your local department store. But, I think that’s the point.

Relearning to Do My Best. Again.

A week or two before Thanksgiving, I started feeling really crummy.  While I never really got sick, per se, I just had no energy, was having trouble with dizzy spells, weakness, etc.  I told myself I was probably just fighting off some infection or something (poorly, due to my pathetic immune system), and I’d feel better in a week or two.  But it was the beginning of a gradual consistent decline.  For a while we thought maybe the issue was a change that had been made in my medication, but it turned out that I had managed to contract mono (at my age!) from some unknown source.

As I wrote in The Four Agreements, by far the hardest point for me to follow is Always Do Your Best.

  • Your best is going to change from moment to moment;  it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to when you are sick.  Under any circumstances, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

Yep, I suck at this.  Royally.  I don’t want to do Karen’s best.  I want to do Supermom’s best. AND Superwife’s best.  AND Supernanny’s best.  AND Superdaughter, Supergranddaughter, Supersister, Superfriend, and all the other Supers.  All at the same time.  Without fail.  I don’t care if I’m sick.  I can’t give myself a break just because I’m sick!

Ugh.  Alas, I was so dreadfully ill that I had no choice. I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do.  I couldn’t even do most of the things that I NEEDED to do.  But that didn’t stop me from beating myself up for it.  If only I was stronger, or tried harder, or pushed myself a little more….

So I’ve had to reevaluate what is critical.  It’s especially hard this time of year.  I usually make home-made Christmas cards, and some home-made soaps.  Neither of those things are happening this year, and I hate it.  But it’s just not physically possible.  Intellectually, I know people will understand, but I still find it tremendously disappointing.  I tell you guys that Christmas doesn’t have to be Martha Stewart perfect to be memorable, and I believe that, but I still find myself striving for that ideal.  I have to constantly tell myself that my best today is not my best yesterday, nor is it anyone else’s best but my own.

If I get too down on myself, I actually end up accomplishing less than if I had just allowed myself to do what I am capable of, right now, in this moment.  Maybe one day I will actually learn this lesson.  I’ll keep trying.  And I’ll do my best.  🙂

How about you?  Does anyone else do this to themselves?  Does it make you feel better to know that you’re not the only one?

Seven Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Life

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/7-harsh-truths-that-will-improve-your-life.html

This is such a great article, I just had to share it.  I have found time and again that the better I am at applying these principles to my life, the happier and more fulfilled I am.  I’ll add my input in blue, as I have done in the past.

7 Harsh Truths That Will Improve Your Life

AUGUST 15 BY DANIEL WALLEN IN COMMUNICATIONMOTIVATION | 2.3K SHARES

Truth hurts, but someone has to say it. Your life is what you make of it and the only person who can help you is yourself. If you’re ready to take personal responsibility and improve your life, I invite you to apply these seven harsh truths today.

1. No One Is Going to Fix You

If you are waiting for a knight in shining armor to gallop into your life and heal your broken heart, you will be waiting forever. The only person who can help you is yourself. Be happy for the other people in your life, but do not become dependent on them for happiness unlike (I think he meant “unless”) you like to be on a never-ending emotional roller-coaster that is far beyond the realm of your control. Are you alone? No, far from it. But no one is going to fix you, so it is in your best interest to take personal responsibility for your own life. When you do that, you’ll discover you are more powerful than you ever thought possible.

The original article includes a short video by Oprah Winfrey on exactly this idea.  You CANNOT allow the entire foundation of your happiness to be based exclusively on one person, or their existence in your life, or their behavior.  Nor can your relinquish control over your behavior and choices to someone else (ie, “so-and-so makes me angry, so I do “x” bad behavior”)  I need to stress this one over and over again:  NO ONE IS GOING TO FIX YOU.  If you’re not happy where you are, it’s your job to do what you need to do to get where you want to be.  Can you lean on friends and family for support?  Certainly.  But it is not their job to be responsible for your happiness or your perceived level of fulfillment.  That responsibility is yours alone.

2. Life Will Never Be Perfect

If you are waiting for the “right” time to do something — pursue self-employment, begin a fitness plan, dive into the dating pool, or move to a new town — you’re going to be waiting forever. There is no such thing as a “right” time to do anything. This reaction is based on your fear-of-change, plain and simple. If you keep waiting for that mysterious “perfect time to act” (please tell me, when have you ever experienced such a thing?), this means you will never actually have to take action and confront your fear.  Do the scary thing. You will be so glad you did.

This is hard.  It’s hard to take risks, and so we excuse our inaction by saying it’s not the right time.  There will never be perfect timing, with every variable exactly as you want it.  Once you’ve decided it’s something you want to do, go after it wholeheartedly.  Jump in with both feet. As Ms Frizzle always says, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

3. You Might Fail (a Lot)

If you attempt to achieve an ambitious new goal, then it is possible that you will fall on your face while pursuing said goal. Welcome to reality. It’s time to change your thinking about failure. It is not a big, bad thing that you should be frightened of. Failure is a learning opportunity and nothing more. If successful people quit pursuing their goal after failing the first time they tried something new, then there would be approximately zero successful people ever. There is no such thing as a “hole-in-one” in life. Do you want to know how many times I’ve failed? Over a hundred. The only reason I’ve managed to accomplish anything is because I am a firm believer in continuous improvement. If you fail in something, distance from the event for a day or two, because agonizing over the problem will not make it go away (and will make it a lot worse). Read a good book, catch up with some friends you haven’t seen in a long time, or go on a nature hike. You will be able to look at the issue with a fresh perspective. After you have done that, ask yourself: “Why didn’t this work out and how can I do better next time?”  This process very well could repeat itself several times depending on the nature of your goal, but if you keep making a firm commitment to continuously improve yourself, you will develop so much that the only option left is success. Consistent hustle always wins.

Failure is not a big, bad thing that you should be frightened of.  It is a learning opportunity and nothing more.  I’ve said this many times about relationships, because even the worst relationship can at the very least teach you what you DON’T want.  But it applies equally to every other potential failure as well.  One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”   (more quotes about being willing to fail)  The biggest thing is that you do not let failure, even repeated failure, stop you.  You may have HAD a failure, but you will not BE a failure until you give up completely.

4. The Past Is Already Written

Have you ever made a mistake so monumental that you wish you could go back in time and do it all over again? Join the club. It’s called being human. I know you might feel immense regret, but beating yourself up over something that is already done serves no purpose. Shift your attention to the present, where you can take control of your life and move forward into a better future.

This is not to say we should be flippant about the monumentally stupid thing we did, or refuse to apologize if it involved hurting someone else, but seriously.  Ask for forgiveness, and give it to yourself if necessary, and move on.  Try to think about how you would treat a beloved friend who made the same mistake.  I hope you would be able to say, “Yeah, that was dumb.  Just make sure you don’t do it again.”  If you’re not capable of saying that to your dear friend, you have a whole other issue that needs to be dealt with.  But often it’s harder to say it to ourselves.  Self-flagellation can’t erase the mistake.  We need to learn to admit that we had an attack of temporary stupidity and then get on with life.

5. Tomorrow Is Not Guaranteed 

Steve Jobs said it best, so I’m going to defer to him for this harsh truth:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

The next time you catch yourself playing the “I will do it tomorrow” game, remember that tomorrow is not guaranteed. Traffic accidents, heart attacks, and acts of violence do happen. Live in the present and take action today, because that is where progress happens.

This seems a little morbid, perhaps, but it really is true.  Live like there’s no tomorrow.  Love fiercely, and fight for your dreams.  Don’t wait for tomorrow.

6. Just Because You’re “Busy” Doesn’t Mean You’re Accomplishing Something

If you like to brag about how great you are at multitasking, stop it, because you are only kidding yourself. Changing tasks without rhyme or reason is wasting your productivity, stressing you out, and possibly causing you to make mistakes. It will probably take you longer to complete two tasks that you are switching back-and-forth between than it would to complete each one separately. If you want to save time, instead of multitasking, try grouping similar tasks together. Have a bunch of e-mails you need to send? Do them all at once. Have an article or essay you need to write? Get it done before moving onto anything else. Different tasks require different mind-sets, so focus on one thing at a time. Being “busy” does not guarantee that you are doing something useful (it probably just means you are doing a lot of things badly).

I have a problem with this.  If I do not stay focused on a task, it may never get finished.  I’ll start something, and then get distracted by something else that needs to be done, and forget to finish the first thing.  I find I am infinitely more productive when I keep myself on task, especially if I have a to-do list that allows me to tackle things in order of importance.  I just have to remember to be pleased with what I have accomplished instead of fretting over the things that are left on my list.  I like these suggestions for making a to-do list effective.

7. You Have More Time Than You Think You Do

You should eliminate the phrase, “I don’t have the time,” from your vocabulary, because it is profoundly untrue. There are 168 hours every week. Let that sink in for a moment. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it possibly go? The average person spends 4.09 hours on leisure activities per day according to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of that time, 2.8 hours per day, is devoted to the television. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think watching TV does much to help me grow as a person. You could spend that time creating art that adds value to the world, reading books that will help you improve your life, or exercising for a better body and health. The next time you say you “don’t have the time,” change your wording to say “it isn’t a priority.” No time to exercise? Your fitness isn’t a priority. No time to prepare healthy meals at home? Your health isn’t a priority. No time to do something nice for the love of your life? Your relationship isn’t a priority. It’s harsh, but it’s true. How you spend your time is a choice, so spend it wisely. You also might want to check out this article that will help you get more done in a day.

In some ways, this is just delving deeper into the previous point.  There is an age-old adage that says, “Work smarter, not harder.”  That is so true.  By making sure that your time is spent getting things done that you really want to accomplish, you’ll find that there are far more hours available to you than you thought.  Now, I’m not dead-set against television.  Everyone has to have some down time, and veg out a bit.  I usually prefer to do this with a book, but to each his own.  However, if keeping up with the new episodes of the seventeen different series you “have” to watch is keeping you from getting done what you need and want to get done, it’s a problem.

But how do you decide what’s important?  Ask yourself what you really want.  Most of us are not at exactly where we want to be in our lives right at this moment.  Perhaps we want to learn a new skill, train for a new job, start our own business, or whatever it might be.  Think about the steps that are necessary to reach that goal.  Spend at least a little time each day planning or working toward that goal.  Chances are, that’s going to help you decide what to focus on.  Think of your time as a valuable resource, and you are choosing how to spend it, just as you choose how to spend your money.  Do you really want the majority of your time to be spent on things that will not help you towards your dreams?

And then the problem becomes whether or not we have talked ourselves out of pursuing our dreams, because they are unattainable, impractical, or just plain difficult.  But I’ll tackle that one next time.

What do you think?  Which of these points resonates the most with you?