From A Threat To A Challenge

As I’ve said before, fear doesn’t give a damn whether a perceived threat is indeed life threatening or not. But being scared of everything isn’t a way to live. So what to do?

In SuperBetter (a book about increasing resilience from a gameful perspective) the author explores the important distinction between perceiving circumstances as a challenge versus a threat.

Playing is always more fun than feeling threatened...
Playing is always more fun than feeling threatened…

It’s a fairly simple change in attitude or perspective. A necessary starting point is to identify the threat. Get clear on that. Then, reframe the situation as a challenge – which by definition is anything that “provokes our desires to test our strengths and abilities and that gives us the opportunity to improve them”. And crucially, decide whether you accept the challenge or not. Once accepted, you’re now all in voluntarily and ready to “rise up” to the challenge.

See the difference? A threat is something that’s happening TO you. A challenge is an opportunity – perhaps something happening FOR you. True, most of us are facing uninvited challenges with chronic issues looming over our lives. But I’m guessing that within your lifestyle, there are some obstacles that could benefit from a gameful attitude of reframing the situation as a challenge.

I’ve been doing this in some areas of my life and find that it brings out a more playful side of me (even though the issue is serious). I’ve also looked at some obstacles/problems and decided not to accept those challenges at the moment. This is another form of relief.

According to the McGonigal, the research shows this mental shift impacts your biological responses (reducing some of the fight/flight reactions) and sets the stage to look for resources (both internally and externally) to address the issue – making it an adaptive rather than a maladaptive response.

Pretty cool eh?   ~Z

Anybody Else Need Help Asking For Help?

Apparently, I need help asking for help. I’m going to share some obstacles to growing this skill for me in hopes they may serve you as well, as this is an important skill for taking care of ourselves AND living lives that still have the meaning and value we want.

One obstacle I’ve uncovered is stories/judgments I tell myself about people who ask for help. I was taught that you need to take care of yourself and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. So one hurdle is overcoming my own self-judgment of being “weak” if I ask for help (among others – like being “needy”).

Repeat to myself... "I don't have to be drowning to ask for help. I don't have to be..."
Repeat to myself… “I don’t have to be drowning to ask for help. I don’t have to be…”

Another impediment is that, since I’ve mostly excluded this as a viable option, I’m not very skilled at doing it well and I’m uncomfortable doing things I’m not good at. A goal is about asking for help from a place of power and empowerment versus from a victim or “needy” place. I don’t always trust myself to skillfully ask powerfully.

And then there’s being unattached to the outcome. I have practiced doing this and do it well in many areas of my life. Oddly, that ability doesn’t seem to transfer as well over to asking for a favor or for help doing “ordinary” things.

Not to mention the fear of rejection and the stories we can so easily make up about our worth or loveableness (none of them good) if someone says “nope” or even “not now”.

It also appears to be ingrained in me that give and take must be equal – I don’t want to feel like I owe anybody anything. Again, not helpful when stacked with the other issues.

So, no answers for you today. But I think I’m asking some good questions for me. You?         ~Z

Does Your Voice of Fear Camouflage Itself As Intuition?

“Trust your gut” they say.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my gut seems to be shouting at me to avoid things at all costs, or to run like hell!

Or is that really my gut?

The voice of fear does an excellent job of impersonating the voice of intuition. So how to tell the difference?

Some threats are more real than others...
Some threats are more real than others…

To be clear, the voice of fear is not necessarily bad or to be ignored. The opportunity is in knowing who’s talking (or demanding) and to get specific on what’s being said.

I believe fear is a basic physical and emotional response to threats to either our survival or our identity.

So the first step of discernment is learning what YOUR body feels like when you’re feeling afraid. When that buzz is going on, be wary of the “advice” you’re getting.

Then ask yourself, “What part of me is being threatened?”. What is really at risk of being annihilated? Usually, that allows some perspective (assuming you answer yourself truthfully ;-), and permits a detachment and reduction of the cold buzz of the fear. It allows the “smarter” parts of your brain to start functioning again.

Then ask “What is threatening me?”. This further empowers you to stand into your “detached observer” role, letting your wisdom and reason come more fully online. Once you’ve gotten this birds-eye view (feeling, caution, what’s at risk, the actual threat), and have slowed down your reactions, you can query your wiser self about the next best step. That first step – close in…

Because now you’re waking up and not running on autopilot. Which is exactly what fear is so damn talented at doing. That’s not a bad thing. Just not needed in most situations for most of us…   ~Z

Some ideas about making the hard tasks easier…

Stuff’s gotta get done. Some stuff is less important and hopefully you’re constantly discerning what’s necessary and what you can let go of. But there are still crucial things you need to do in your life, and some of those things aren’t pleasant. Maybe it’s cooking. Or organizing. Or paying bills. Maybe it’s your rehab exercises or perhaps just bathing that you want to avoid because it hurts. Or maybe some essential tasks that you might otherwise enjoy or at least tolerate become seemingly intolerable on those days when you’re having a relapse or a flare-up. Yet not doing them is going to cost you.

Gotta be a better way, yes?
Gotta be a better way, yes?

Fill in the blank (as many times as you like): I really don’t like _________.

A question to ask yourself is; “How can I attenuate or lessen the unpleasantness of this essential activity?”.

I bet you already do this in some areas of your life unconsciously – maybe play music when you’re cleaning or listen to audio books on long trips. Pills in applesauce anyone?

I’m challenging you to consider attenuation for the most important activities that you resist the most. Maybe rock out to your favorite musical soundtrack when you’re exercising. Or cook when you’re not hungry (yes, I eat before I cook big batches of healthy food to freeze) – or have a stool to sit on in the kitchen. Maybe fold laundry when you’re talking to a friend or watching a comedy.

Taking lots of breaks or breaking tasks up into small chunks and quitting before you get exhausted works for me. Turn things into a game or take a playful approach, or keep score. Just having company during some things can be a big assist.

Oh, and asking for help and letting someone help you makes EVERYTHING EASIER!    ~Z



Being Entrenched – A Double-Edged Sword

Entrenched… This word was ringing in my head this morning. Not a word that I even knew was in my vocabulary. But there it was.

I was reflecting on lives of friends and clients and myself when it bubbled up. I was thinking about big life changes and how frustratingly difficult (or seemingly impossible) it can be to make big changes in our lives even when we can logically see the value of the change.

We have other words for it. Stuck. In a rut. Trapped. But there’s something about this idea of digging in and staying put (in say, a military sense) in order to defend and protect something precious that is sticking with me. It’s like some of us are willing to go to our graves stuck in habits not serving our higher or grander visions for ourselves and our world.

It’s like in our entrenchment, we have dug in and are defending something. Which is fine if you can articulate what it is you’re protecting or defending. But I think many of us have forgotten.

The flip side is this. Despite being rooted in old habits and ways of being, we can choose to become entrenched in new habits and new ways of being. I have, and I bet you have too.

So the question becomes one of asking yourself what trench you’d like to climb your way out of that is no longer serving what you know to be the highest priorities in your life. And what new trench would you like to start digging for yourself?

You might have to figure out what you’ve been protecting all these years. Or maybe just start digging?   ~Z

Did You Make Yourself Sick?

In this world of The Secret and the interconnectedness of all things… there are copious schools of thought around how our outer illness might be a manifestation of some unresolved inner trauma. Questions arise like: “Did I Make Myself Sick?”, or “Am I Keeping Myself From Getting Well?”.

Maybe not…

Here’s what I’ve learned: It probably doesn’t matter.

Building instead of digging... might have more long-lasting results?
Building instead of digging… might have more long-lasting results?

If you’ve got some inner work that needs doing to reduce your suffering and grow yourself into the person you really know you are – then do that work. Find the right therapist or coach or journaling routine and get crackin’. Getting straight and real with yourself – learning to ask yourself the hard questions and hear the truth – can’t help but support your efforts to take responsibility for your life going forward.

And in the meantime, start doing what it takes to re-claim your life so you’re reaping what you want to reap from your brief experience on this planet. There are a thousand things you can do that are probably more helpful than worrying about finding that Gordian knot in your psyche that, “If I only unraveled it all would be okay”.

I’m not saying that revealing some emotional block won’t miraculously cure you. But I wouldn’t wait to start taking good care of yourself – doing those things you know will be good for you independent of your health conditions. Eat well. Sleep well. Move well. Set some boundaries and ask for help. Frankly, if you’re blaming yourself for causing your own illness, seems to me these kinds of responsible actions would be an antidote to that lingering doubt (and shame?) as well.

My point? Even if you did get yourself into this, there’s still only you to get yourself out. What’s YOUR next step?     ~Z


Being Sick Without Being A Victim – Part II

In Part I, I briefly explored that how we advocate for ourselves is as important as whether or not we do.

This is yet another knot in the bundle of paradoxes of living with chronic conditions – a situation where we have special needs but still want to consider ourselves equals to those without those same needs (and be treated as such).

I know it feels like this on the inside sometimes. But if I don't want to be treated like this, I choose not to act from this place.
I know it feels like this on the inside sometimes. But if I don’t want to be treated like this, I can choose not to act from this place. And my friends will tell you I’m an excellent whiner…;-)

For most of us, there’s some inner work required – around practicing and learning how not to feel guilty or ashamed for your situation and the impacts on others. These feelings are obstacles to believing you deserve what you need. They can sometimes even be blocks to knowing what you need. So check in with yourself around this. Can you say to yourself “I’m sick/ill/in pain etc.” and not feel yourself start to shrink? If not, then neither can anyone else.

And the BIG skill is learning to ask cleanly for what you want without any attachment to or judgment of the outcome. Because even though as a human being, you are deserving of support, that’s not the same as being entitled to everything you want. When we come from a place of entitlement, we’re not coming from our most mature self, and we’re likely not making any friends either.

You’re not entitled to be pissed off at everyone who can’t anticipate your needs 100% of the time. You ARE entitled to ask for everything you deserve and need as a human being. And doing that from a place of confidence without shame or victimhood is more likely to get you the respect (and perhaps that nap) that you deserve…     ~Z

Being Sick Without Being A Victim – Part I

I’d love to be able to offer you 5 or 9 or 3 steps to stand tall within yourself as a person with chronic illness and not be a victim. I would if I could. But it’d be a lie to make any kind of guarantees about this particular boat you may find yourself in.

What I will tell you is that learning to live and advocate for yourself from a place of strength and confidence – versus from that place of weakness, anger and victimhood – might very well be THE most important skill set to master.

Being a victim is like trying to get something to work with the power button turned off...
Being a victim is like trying to get something to work with the power button turned off…

Of course, there’s no need to learn how if all you want is others’ pity. Or if you want someone else to make the hard choices for you. Or you want to be rescued. Or if you’ve given up on having a loveable future and expressing yourself fully in the world.

Learning to speak up and out (literally or metaphorically) is a subtle but powerful act of discernment – a choice point if you will – that we will find ourselves in repeatedly. Where not speaking up for what you need or require is an act of cowardice. Where blaming others for not knowing what is important to you is simply a place to hide. Where speaking too loudly is an attack. Where how you speak about your needs or boundary or limits or whatever has been dishonored or is about to be – is just as important as what you communicate.

Because you are communicating for a reason. Because you have a message in the moment that you want someone else to actually GET versus just hearing the words come out of your mouth. Because only then will something change – at least for that moment. Perhaps also for moments to come…   ~Z


A Fruitful Way to Enhance Accurate Communication and Support

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”    George Bernard Shaw

Most (but not all) of us have the ability to speak. But we all know that words don’t tell the whole story – that sometimes when we respond to content without taking into account the tone and body language and context etc. – we can miss what’s actually being communicated.

What if we learned from our miscues and from those who know us best?
What if we learned from our miscues and from those who know us best?

There is a beautiful way to make clear what we really mean by doing a bit of collaborative and proactive spelunking with those who know us well to discover what we’re really saying with our actions.

For example, it’s important for people in my life to know that at anytime when I am cranky, it might mean my blood sugar is low, and to ask me if I’ve eaten recently.

There are 4 components here, which are:

  1. Context – what is happening
  2. Actions/Behaviors – what the person does or does not do
  3. Possible meanings
  4. What a helpful response might be (as defined by the person)

Using your imagination, you can see that working up a chart with this information could be useful for most any relationship, but especially one where underlying physical/mental conditions have a bigger influence.

Fill in the blanks for yourself. Think about times when you’re being misunderstood and feeling poorly and just can’t seem to get the right reaction from others in your life. Like when you’ve just gotten back from work, or the store, and are complaining about what’s been happening – it might mean you just want to be heard, and the response you want is for someone to listen, not to probe or give advise.

Got it? My challenge is to ASK someone in your life about YOUR indirect communication, as THEY know better than you. Then, begin your chart – so you BOTH know what’s really being said.  ~Z


Why others may not get it that you’re sick – and a great way to explain it!

You've got a limited # of spoons to spend each day in spoon theory. You choose where to use them.
You’ve got a limited # of spoons to spend each day in spoon theory. You choose where to use them.

Because they want you to be well.

That’s the simple version. And let’s trust that some of their “want” is coming from a good caring place.

Some of it may also be coming from a place of discomfort. You know how uncomfortable you can feel when someone else is suffering and you feel like  there’s really nothing you can do about it? But you want to do something so you say some trite comment like “this too shall pass”, or “it’ll all be okay”, or “it is what it is”, or “it could be worse”… (okay, these are some of my pet peeves when I hear them – I’m sure you’ve got some of your own).

The point is that we say these things because we’re uncomfortable, and saying them reduces that distress – if only for a moment. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to respond, and you don’t have to let them in. Use your armor of reminding yourself their comment is about them, not you.

Another reason they don’t get it is that they just don’t get it! They can’t know what it’s like to be you, just like you can’t know what it’s like to be them.

In that vein, I ran into a brilliant metaphor to living with illness called The Spoon Theory. Maybe you already know about it, but if not, I highly recommend a read. And perhaps more importantly, this is a resource for folks in your life who aren’t getting it. It may explain your life in a way you’ve not been able to. This story/theory articulates the phenomenon of our limited resources and the hard choices you have to make day in and day out. And there are thousands of “spoonies” out there!    ~Z