Authentic connections

Finding a place under the sun, Love, Self-development

Authentic relating

Do you remember that warm bubbly feeling after you’ve had a nice long chat with someone and you felt you connected in so many dimensions? The time spent left you all energised and feeling like you can do anything. It’s when you are seen and enjoyed in your fullness. When you live in a big city as an expat like me, away from family and old friends, it is easy to become invisible, feel slightly alienated and crave for that kind of connection again. Ryel Kostano, founder of Authentic Relating Training, has identified five principles that improve our connections and lead to conscious relationships.

  1. Welcome everything: slow down, notice and be aware of it all, inside and outside ourselves, good and bad. Basically come with an observant but open and serene mind. This does not mean agreeing with, approving or condoning everything. Neither does it mean focusing on things to change or fix, just bringing our attention to what already is.
  2. Assume nothing: assumptions get in the way of real connection and often cause misunderstanding and arguments, so it is important to discern where we are making them and have the courage to check them with the other person. Our assumptions reveal more about ourselves than the person in question and it takes some vulnerability to reveal them, as by doing so we reveal a part of ourselves.
  3. Reveal your experience: acknowledge how you perceive things and then share this with other, who you are with all your façades, dare to be seen and known. Sometimes even expressing what stage you are in, what you are ready to share or not, can help the relationship be more fluid.
  4. Own your experience: analyse your part in the experience that you are having. Reclaim the power you give to others or external factors to make you feel in a certain way. Take responsibility for the experience you are having and for how you show up in a relation. Otherwise, we put too much pressure on the external world to change to fit our expectations.
  5. Honour self and other: know your values, needs, wants, boundaries and preferences and those of others and live according to them. Treat others how they would like to be treated, not how you would like to be treated if you were them, by having the curiosity to find out what that is. Conscious relationships try to maximise the overlap between our values, needs, wants and preferences and those of others.

These principles are all backed by self-awareness and knowledge, vulnerability, communication, honesty, respect, trust, forgiveness, presence and curiosity towards the other. And a lot of love – for oneself and others. I also feel that assuming the best (of intentions) in people transforms relationships as well by making us less defensive and more trusting and open.

What else helps you relate authentically to others?

Core desired feelings

Finding a place under the sun, Love, Self-development

Core Desired Feelings

We are all used to compiling to do lists, new year resolutions, goals and five-year life plans. I cannot lie that ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ is my most dreaded job interview question. Most recently I discovered a new perspective to go about visualising our lives: how do we want to feel in the future and then thinking about what do we need to do/ have/think to get there? Author Danielle Laporte calls this drawing a desire map according to our core desired feelings (CDFs). CDFs are our most preferred states of being that pull us towards our highest self and gratitude and make us feel peaceful, energised and grounded. They are life-affirming, positive and expansive. Instead of paralysing like to do lists, CDFs are inviting.

Our core desired feelings reveal themselves when we are connected with our emotions and sensitivity. How to do this is not always obvious, especially if we are used to suppressing our vulnerability to keep going. I for one often founded harder to activate my heart mechanism and was sometimes perceived as cold. To connect with our feelings, we could relive moments when we felt a certain way or imagine situations that would trigger our fears and vulnerabilities. This could also be done through a heart opening meditation where we start by breathing deeply in our heart centre, after which we ask ourselves how we are feeling, but as an observer not as a judge, then move to compassion by saying something gentle to ourselves, and to gratitude by remembering what we are thankful for; the next step is to invite the core desire feeling into our heart, visualise the colours it brings along or sense its perfume, and listen to what it has to say to us: an affirmation, a positive thought or an action that reflects that CDF. If we want to go even deeper, we can describe our CDF as a character in our play: what are its essential qualities? what does it like to do?

Identifying our CDFs should be liberating instead of placing us in a position of dependence of exterior factors or a do mode. For example, sense the difference between having as CDFs love instead of loved or loving. If your CDF is love you could be both receiving and giving love, but also embodying it rather than being in a mindset of I need someone to love me or I need to do or give to be more loving.

I enjoyed the idea of heart-centered living: weighing our success not in terms of quantifying indicators like money, house size, grades etc but in terms of how often we get to live our CDFs.

Here are my CDFs: love/belonging, expansive/growth/continuous learning, purpose/contributing/fulfillment, fun/adventure. What are yours?

Your daily questions

Finding a place under the sun, Self-development

We all want to get so much done. And feel good about ourselves and our lives. But often we give in to the pressures of the day and forget what is important to us. What if I told you there was a simple way where you have full control, which can help you keep on track and live according to your values and your priorities in a more conscious way? By bringing this to your awareness in a repeated practice, you will also be inclined to take decisions more in line with what matters to you. I said simple, not easy.

I recently discovered coach Marshall Goldsmith’s daily questions. Basically, it’s a powerful tool where you can compile a (check)list of questions in Excel that you can answer on a daily basis with a Yes (1) or No (0) for each day of the week. These should cover what is extremely important to you, from personal life, career, values, hungers (or personal realisation needs) to working towards a long-term goal or monitoring your mood. The list shouldn’t be too long or the task will soon feel burdensome, or too general or vague. At the same time, if it is important for you to feel useful, loved or accepted, you should cater to that need before it becomes too poignant. You could draw this list according to your situation, but here are a few examples to get you started:

  • have I showed my partner that I love him/her?
  • have I spent at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with my children?
  • have I been kind or contributed to someone’s happiness or well-being?
  • have I learned something new today?
  • have I reached out to someone important in my life?
  • was this a good day?
  • have I worked on my [insert long-term goal] in any way?
  • have I been kind to myself or taken care of myself?

To keep your daily list shorter, you could also have a weekly list or a monthly list, with things that are easy to remember even later or where you do not need them to happen daily, like: have I exercised twice a week? have I gone out of my comfort zone this month? have I done anything that excites me? anything that makes me feel proud of myself? have I met someone that inspires me or could contribute to my growth?

I know, we all hate Excel spreadsheets outside work, but they have cool functionalities where you can sum values, create rules and highlight automatically the instances where what you are doing is not according to your standards or goals. You can sum up the 1s or 0s and decide thresholds on a weekly or monthly basis. The list can also be kept in a notebook and can be part of your morning or evening routine. You could also add more detail and then it can act as a mini-diary.

This is your list and it should include whatever serves you. You should organise it in such a way that you can make an enjoyable practice out of it that you can easily squeeze in your day. If you are not a big fan of numbers or math, you could also add some questions for ongoing reflection. Here are some suggestions from a friend of mine: What can I, and only I, do, and if done well, can make a real difference? What is the most valuable use of my time right now?

What would you ask yourself on a regular basis? Curious if you’ve tried doing this and what you thought of it.

Happiness saboteurs

Finding a place under the sun, Self-development

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When it comes to our general happiness, our genes and life circumstances don’t matter as much as we think they do. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, the percentage breakdown of the factors is 50% genetic setpoint, 10% life circumstances and 40% our intentional actions and thoughts. This means that a big portion of our happiness is under our control. Cognitive behavioural psychology and positive psychology have made great progress in identifying and reversing negative thought patterns by replacing them with positive actions, thoughts and habits.

Stanford lecturer and coach Shirzad Chamine described ten saboteurs that make us forget our true self, limit our potential and prevent us from being happy. These saboteurs are often anchored in childhood experiences of not being seen, not being enough, not being loved unconditionally, or of discomfort, chaos and unpredictability that the now adult is trying to escape, control or make up for.

  • the Judge: constantly criticises self, circumstances and others, master saboteur that activates the other saboteurs.
  • the Controller: tries to bring situations and people to one’s will and feels frustrated when not possible, willful, direct and confrontational.
  • the Stickler: believes in closely following rules or doing things in a certain way, keeping a very high standard, being perfect, and often highly critical of self and others.
  • the Victim: unconsciusly attached to having difficulties, tries to get attention and affection, sometimes experiencing depression, apathy and constant fatigue due to repressed rage, sulks if criticised, feels lonely.
  • the Hyper-Achiever: dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect, self-love and self-validation.
  • the Restless: always keeps busy and in search of greater excitement for fear of missing out (bingo!), rarely content in the present.
  • the Hyper-Vigilant: notices and exaggerates the negative, always anxious, with chronic doubts about self and others.
  • the Pleaser: desperately tries to be accepted and liked by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others, difficulty expressing own needs which come second and thus becomes resentful.
  • the Hyper-Rational: mind over feelings, can be perceived as cold, distant, and intellectually arrogant, tries to regain a sense of security through rational order.
  • the Avoider: postpones unpleasant and difficult tasks and ignores conflicts, suppressed anger and resentment, difficulty saying no.

These saboteurs were formed in our early childhood and were meant to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional safety. Curious which one is more proeminent in your life? Take this free saboteurs assessment.

I might dare to add that on top of these saboteurs, we’ve all been engrained some general beliefs about life that we carry with us subconsciously and poison our current becoming and decision-making. It could be small things like Men are not to be trusted because they will eventually cheat. Women are supposed to be beautiful. Marriage is just a form of domestic exploitation.

Here are some quick tricks to catch these saboteurs red-handed and fight them. Keeping up this habit to keep your saboteurs in check will build your mental fitnesss:

  • Distance yourself from your thoughts by writing them down, labelling the Sabouteurs behind them, even giving them funny names to loosen their power and then replacing these thoughts with a more gentle, emphatic and realistic thought. Sometimes focusing on a physical sensation for 10 seconds also helps unplug the negative thought pattern enough to replace it. Replacement affirmations can be accompanied by evidence e.g. My annoying Judge saboteur thinks I am not a loser. Thank you for sharing but I am reclaiming my life to be more in tune with my true nature. I know better than this because I have many accomplishments in my life, like I have a safe job where I am valued and a loving family. You can go now. Once you have escaped their power and you have more time, have a think where this saboteur is coming from, what or who in your life might have created it.
  • Set boundaries and favour thoughts that favour your growth: I remember when I confessed to a friend that I didn’t feel very optimistic those days and she said something very simple that stuck with me: you have nothing to gain from being pessimistic. That simple! So when a negative thought comes, just say Thanks for you opinion, Thought, but you don’t serve me. Bye!
  • Regard everything as an opportunity: this is what Shirzad calls getting in contact with your Sage, but it can also be called having a growth mindset. It’s ok not to master this skill from the beginning, but I can perfect it in time. What am I learning from this failure? What other skill do I get to practice?
  • Emotional release: do not ignore the fact that these saboteurs have been with you for a long time and have generated a lot of emotions which are now stored in the body. To free from their power, try meditation or practices like Osho’s pillow beating meditation where you just take out all your anger on your pillow.
  • Drop comparison: accept and love your uniqueness. Life is not a race, but an individual journey of discovery. What is it that you want and why do you really want it?
  • Whatever comes, you got this. Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert believes we suffer from an impact bias, namely that both positive and negative events have a much smaller impact in terms of intensity and duration than expected. We are more resilient than we think we are and that we can even synthetise happiness when we don’t necessarily get what we what. So why not risk it and apply for that job you always wanted, ask out that person you like, pursue that passion that you think you are not good enough for? You will regret not trying more than trying and failing.
  • Pat on the back: reward yourself for the small wins in your life, acknowledge when you’ve done a great job and celebrate.
  • Reaffirming your self-worth: I am enough, regardless of what I possess, my job title, my looks etc.
  • Assume good intentions and good will in people: feeling like everyone is after to get you or doesn’t like you will only make you defensive, distant, untrusting.
  • Give yourself and others a break: everyone is doing the best they can based on their own painful past and conditioning. It’s only human to make mistakes and it’s ok not to be perfect. Be an instrument of love to others and a source of support and encouragement, not a judge.
  • Accept and reconnect with feelings: if we aren’t aware of our feelings and letting them flow, we cannot accept the feelings of others either.
  • Give yourself time to savour the present, with its perfumes, light and warmth. It’s ok to be where you are, nowhere else you should be.
  • Start your day with the most difficult and less pleasant tasks. Once out of the way, reward yourself for taking responsibility to take your life forward and get things done.
  • Indulge in and welcome the unknown, which can be full of nice surprises and a source of great creativity. What would life be if everything was predictable and under your control and everything done according to your way? Boring, right?

Would love to hear what (other) techniques have worked for you.

Emotional agility to boost life satisfaction

Finding a place under the sun, Self-development

Have you noticed that sometimes your actions are driven more by your thoughts and emotions than by what is important to you? For example, if you perceive something new as a burden more than an opportunity because you are not super good at it at the beginning and you believe you should be, you might feel discouraged and drop it altogether. It’s one of the results of a fixed mindset that might deter you from discovering new fields or advancing in your career. I must admit I’m still working on this: for example, having to edit some photos in Photoshop at work was a huge nuissance before it became fun.

Coach Susan David suggests a four-step process to build emotional agility and ultimately lead a more satisfying life:

1. Show up: acceptance of emotions, thoughts and your story without judgement. It’s ok to feel what I am feeling, to think what I am thinking, to have experienced what I experienced. I’d add being able to accept those things that are out of our control.
2. Step out: distancing yourself from your thoughts, emotions and stories as something that does not define you. These are just thoughts, emotions and stories, not who I am.
3. Connecting with your why: make a choice aligned with your values, which will give them a concrete expression. Is what I am choosing now in line with and expressing my values or am I moving away from them and what I want to achieve in life?
4. Move on: continue to pursue what is important to you even if that means going through some discomfort and choosing courage over comfort. Cultivate value-driven mindsets, habits and decisions that can take you closer to your want-to goals. Want-to goals are different from have-to goals, which are imposed by external factors which sabotage our willpower. For example, you will be more conmitted to exercising if you associate it with being healthy than because your partner told you to. Or in my case learning Photoshop becomes fun if I remind myself that one of my values is life-long learning, creativity and self-development, and not just because I have to learn it at work. It might also help to think what is my mission, what do I want to achieve and be like in the different roles I hold: as a parent, partner, professional, sibling, friend, citizen and so on. If I want to be a loving partner, I will go out of my way to make my partner feel loved and supported.

If you’re wondering how to identify your values, here’s an interesting way from Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, who advocates that effective leaders need to be self-aware. George suggests doing a timeline for let’s say every four years of your life, or other period you deem fit, to identify your high and low points and what values, principles and motivations lie behind them. By looking at the lowest points that he calls crucibles, we can see who we are. He also says that we need to work through those crucibles so they don’t hold us back as they will sooner or later pop up – like if at some point we felt we were not good enough and spend our lives trying to prove ourselves. This behaviour is also related to our hungers and trying to feed them from different sources, but that is a whole different subject.

However, we don’t always have to be chasing something or doing something. There is happiness is stillness. We can achieve more with a quiet mind, as Marshall Goldsmith reminds us: You have so much right now. It’s certainly OK to dream big, but stay rooted in the belief that your current life is pretty great—just as it is. 

Happy self-discovery! I’d love to hear how you’re getting on or what tricks you use to stay on track.

What does vulnerability have to do with it?

Finding a place under the sun, Love, Self-development

We are all aware of the downsides of vulnerability: we could be mocked, disconsidered or even abandoned altogether if we show our weaknesses, fears or negative traits; we could be derailed from our success if we don’t ferociously keep on going; we could be seriously damaged and hurt. Life is a dangerous place out there.

What if I told you that you are missing out by denying or hiding your vulnerability? How so? Well, first of all, connection stems from vulnerability, that moment when we see the human side and common struggles in our counterpart. It is no surprise that the people we connect most with are also our confidants to whom we share our dreams and failures. I only realised this when I saw that as an expat I made friends easily and was surrounded by people but none of them too close. Why? Because our discussions revolved around external facts and fun stuff. We never really talked about anything that mattered.

There cannot be true love either without true sharing since, beyond passion, love comes from our need to protect and nurture our partner. It is often when we see their softer side rather than their achievements, when they confide in us, that our heart warms up to them. There’s nothing more vulnerable than loving someone with all our being while knowing that our feelings may not be shared or that one day it will all end. Without our willingness to open up and invest ourselves fully, we cannot say we truly love someone.

A leader wins the respect and trust of its organisation when he or she is humane, when they acknowledge their mistakes and improve, their limitations as to what they still don’t know and they dare to talk about it. Efficient leaders are liked by their community who can identify with them.

Equally, empathy towards someone’s distress cannot exist without our willingness to experience some negative emotions and put ourselves in the shoes of our counterpart. Lack of empathy leads to tense relationships and frustration, if not end of relationship altogether.

Surprisingly, research professor Brené Brown pointed out that innovation, creativity and change cannot happen in the absence of vulnerability. When coming up with a new idea or product, one must be willing to potentially fail, experience a wide range of negative emotions and be made fun of in order to succeed. Take it up a notch and apply that to your whole life: it takes some courage to take your life to the next level, take decisions regardless of their outcomes and how hurt you might be in the process.

How can we know ourselves and evolve if we never pause to heal our wounds, connect with our emotions or pain, acknowledge our drawbacks and weaknesses and reshuffle plans accordingly? How can we practice self-love and have self-worth without being gentle with ourselves despite it all and acknowleding that it’s ok to have ups and downs?

Brown’s study reveals that emotions cannot be numbed selectively so if we choose to not feel vulnerable or any dark emotion, we equally close our hearts out to love, joy or other positive emotions. I sure don’t want to live in a world with no love, connection, trust, innovation, self-worth, empathy or respect. Do you? So take a moment to feel, connect, be grateful, share, have meaningful conversations, embrace uncertainty, show yourself, be seen.

Hungers game: what drives us (and our New Year’s resolutions)

Finding a place under the sun, My story, Self-development

After you tell me everything you want how about you lie down a bit to tell me why you think you need all these?

Following Santa’s invitation, before we start listing those New Year’s resolutions, how about we think what’s behind them, what really drives our actions and goals, and will they make us feel fulfilled or merely satisfied? Is that what we really want or the same need can be satisfied in a different way? From this perspective, life seems a hungers game, where we continuously chase the ways we can feed the various needs we have. A small challenge awaits for you at the end of this article.

Types of hungers

Coaches Michael Stratford and Deb Giffen in Hungers: the hidden motivators distinguish between three types of hungers which sometimes co-exist:

  • Inner-directed – the Hunger to Receive (attention, love, admiration, recognition, praise, respect, gifts, support, touch, loyalty, information etc): feeds externally to fill an internal void
  • Internal states – the Hunger to Feel (important, secure, valuable, included, unrestricted, loved, at peace, clarity etc)
  • Outer-directed – the Hunger to Be, Have or to Do (successful, in control, right, useful, leader, perfect, responsible, give to others): often linked to an internal hunger and the feeling of void cannot be removed without feeding both hungers.

Whether these hungers were instilled by our childhood, some trauma, the society or our human nature, they need to be fed.

How to feed these hungers

The coaches advise to acknowledge these instinctual hungers, know their intensity and feed them regularly, in various portions and in a healthy way to escape their power. This means also discovering dining in (internal) methods to feed these hungers in order to reduce our dependence on dining out (external) methods. It also means being aware of where and how these hungers are already fed and if in a healthy way. By doing so, we can boost the healthy foods and cut down on for example toxic relationships.

Bingeing as a result of serious long-term deprivation can put our well-being on a roller-coaster ride and lead to making the wrong choices. Imagine becoming so deprived of affection that you could commit to the wrong partner while in fact there are many other sources of affection such as hugs, playing with pets or even self-care. It takes conscious choice, flexibility to accept the variety of foods to feed on but also a network of support we can rely on.

From hungers to values, vision, purpose and mission

With further reflection, hungers can fine-tune our goals, but also be turned into values and a higher vision, purpose and mission. For example, if someone wants to get a management role, by digging deeper and realising that this goal only hides a hunger for recognition of self-worth, one can find other ways to feed this hunger like being a great parent. By doing so, the person can pursue their goal more at ease and more relaxed as they no longer pursue it in a famished state and this goal is no longer the only source of nutrition for this hunger. Or the person could change their goal altogether as no longer fit or that precious because they realised it’s not even what they wanted in the first place.

Once a hunger is no longer a one-way street but applies globally, it becomes a value that enriches your existence. For example, no longer chase love for my own comfort but be loving. When we give what we are yearning for we often get it back as well – like when you smile and the person smiles back. When a hunger is fed, we get satisfaction, whereas when we live according to our values, we feel fulfilled.

Then we discover our vision – the type of world we want to live in: I want to live in a loving and caring world. Then we discover our purpose – what we are called to do: have a loving family and show affection and support. And we define our mission – what we’ll do to turn this vision into reality.

I love it how simple the book describes this process: vision=Eyes, purpose=Heart and mission=Hands.

To link your hungers with your vision, try to ask yourself (and those close to you) if in your interactions with people over the course of your life there was a constant message you’ve delivered. Then reflect how is one of your hungers related to this, how it operates and where have you shared this learning with others.

In my case, I was pleased to see that those close to me also perceived me as my personal statement on this blog shows. I believe in a world where we are free and equal to explore (including multiple identities and roles), where we can open our minds, grow and help others grow continuously not only through reason, enhanced awareness, consciousness and reflection, but also by reconnecting to our heart and essence. Life is about continuous becoming, overcoming our fears and limitations and upgrading ourselves, while nurturing loving relationships where we support others to be who they are and in their becoming. So dare to set an example that life can be lived differently. Thinking of this vision, no wonder I worked in training, research, change management, organisational development and communication.

Challenge for you

Baby steps. So coming back to the holiday season, I invite you to take some time for yourself and:

  • List some New Year’s resolutions
  • Try to identify which hunger the top three would feed
  • What’s the status of this hunger: starving, craving, hungry (still under control) or elemental (cannot live without, linked to your purpose)
  • How else this hunger is already fed in this life – also focus on unhealthy junk food you should drop
  • How could you feed this hunger on a regular, healthy, sustainable basis, including dine-in methods independent of external sources: identify concrete actions and timing
  • Who in your community could help feed this hunger
  • Re-assess your resolutions: keep/discard/replace with, change priorities
  • (If you want to go deeper) What is the source of this hunger and How my life has benefited from having this hunger: experiences, people I met, achievements, learning points

Equally you could analyse any habits that you might not know why you have them. This is how I actually ended up reading this book. I found that I always listen with the intention to contribute and improve which can sometimes be annoying as some people just need to be heard and nothing else. But then digging deeper I also discovered a hunger for control due to a lack of trust that my interlocutors could find a better solution and a hunger for appreciation and proving my worth. When these hungers are fed elsewhere, even through meditation or more gentle self-talk, you no longer act impulsively to have them fed at any occasion despite the circumstances. It does take some discipline to monitor that your hungers are fed regularly and from a rich variety of sources.

Or go through the hungers-to-mission process.

Happy becoming! Would love to hear about it.

New age experience

Finding a place under the sun, Self-development

What would you have taken up as a hobby in your 40s or 50s if you had known you’d live to be 100? Then it suddenly dawns on you that you will be old for more than half of your life. But are you really old in your 40s or 50s or do you need to redefine your reality?

A change in attitudes and perception is needed, especially when people aged 60 and above are thought to outnumber 10 to 24-year-olds in 2050, according to the United Nations. We’ve been made more aware of our negative attitudes towards age when many of our friends and family suddenly turned old on Facebook with the help of an app. I at least realised I’d make a very sad old lady if I don’t take action immediately. So let’s look at the type of habits or traits that can make aging a more fun experience, with some inspiration from a booklet part of The School of Life series I found in the library on How to age.

But before we begin, you might argue that there have been worst times to be old, like when old people would be thrown off cliffs or eaten because their upkeep endangered the survival of the others. Maybe a bit exaggerated and hard to conceive, when now we have great life care for a global average life expectancy of 72. There have also been better times as well, when the old were cherished for being the exclusive holders of knowledge or when age was a sign of distinction. Words like senate (Latin senex meaning the elder) remind us of the value once attached to old age.

What has happened in the meantime? Our consumerism culture has become highly attached to beauty and our physical self. The rapid technological progress quickly makes any knowledge obsolete so we often mock the old for their old-fashioned views. We no longer live under the same roof with three generations and are deprived of the consciousness of our own ephemerality which would help emphatise. We generally have few interactions or close relationships with other age groups.

So which traits or attitudes should we develop?

Repetition and belonging: tied in with the joy of missing out. As you age, you might want to or have to stick more to the same routines. There might not be as much change, variety or moving around. It’s crucial to feel at ease with your surroundings.

Nurturing genuine connections: whether it’s reminiscing about the past with life-long friends or bonding with new ones you just met. A Harvard study on happiness has shown that overall happiness is dependent more on genuine relationships than any other factors.

Growth mindset: if you’re into exploring, you won’t get bored. So many new skills, places and sensations to discover even after you retire. And then you’ll have so much more time!

Sense of self and gratitude: being aware of your choices and how these shaped who you are can keep regrets at bay. Connecting the dots by looking at your life holistically and feeling grateful for everthing that happened. This is of utmost importance when you have a lot of time on your hands to relive the past. As life becomes more stable and less eventful, filled with small moments, what does the future look like for us if we can only feel thankful for big achievements? But most importantly, you are not your body! Sad sad old age if we see ourselves as just a pretty face and lead an oversexualised life deriving satisfaction mostly from bodily sensations and our romantic conquests, ignoring all other life dimensions. I cannot stress this enough.

Letting go and optimism: we will shed many skins as we get older, so it’s important we don’t hold on bitterly to different versions of ourselves, relationships that end, people who pass away, properties that burn down or money we lose. Instead, look forward to the opportunities that will come to replace them.

Accepting help graciously and our vulnerabilities: there will come a time when some help might become essential, so accepting it as a sign of humanity, love and care is better than rejecting it stubbornly and pushing others away. Having to accept help could prove extremely painful in a culture of continuous empowerment, where we are taught to take pride in our independence and our achievements: need no man, can carry my bags perfectly, see these clothes – I bought them. A culture that despises interdependency like in the form of benefits or pension payments.

Laughing at yourself : when you stumble and fall down and can have a good laugh at yourself you know you’re on the right track. This also reminds me of the silly American series Married with children where Al Bundy makes it throughout his married life through self-satire.

Becoming and not being: realising that in each moment we transform and that there is beauty in every stage of life.

Phones now come with automatic face retouching filters. Time to switch them off: I’ve earned these lines! And I wrote the story behind them.

What top traits did I miss?

Free to love

Love

Dear lady,

Your greatest gift and power is your love – that solar energy that warms up everyone around you, offered in vulnerability as a child, mother, friend or lover.

When you’re keeping that from the world, you’re not being true to your feminine essence. I know you were hurt and your heart shattered and now you’re building walls around you to protect your heart.

“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Rumi

You are probably not aware that you are choosing to be a victim of abuse. This mistreatment is not from a man, but from yourself. You are actively closing, protecting your heart from love, shutting down so your body and heart don’t ache so openly. You may be damaging yourself as much as any man could damage you.

You are actively training your body to feel less, your heart to open less, your love to flow less. You don’t need a man’s raised fist to diminish you,- you are diminishing yourself. You are choosing to stay in a relationship with yourself that diminishes you.

Until you can feel the openness beyond your drama—he loves me, he loves me not,- I’m fine by myself, but I long for a good man—your heart will remain tangled up in abuse. You will habitually choose your 1st stage dependence relationship or your 2nd stage separative independence, until
your yearning for love breaks your heart open beyond the drama of love’s coming and going.

David Deida – Dear Lover

You are love. So love.

Choosing not to choose

Self-development

I don’t often remember quotes but this one really stuck with me through the years. Dostoevsky once said man was so scared of freedom he invented God. When confronted with freedom and its wide range of choices, it helps to have some limitations or selection criteria – brought by either religion, values, principles or just circumstances. We all need our fishbowl as psychologist Barry Schwartz puts it.

My relationship with freedom and choice is still somewhere in between loving it and dreading it. With every choice you close doors behind you and open a window. I can never decide if choice is more of a blessing or a burden.

The 21st century with its democratic philosophy is very much attached to the idea of freedom, ever since the pursuit of happiness was enshrined as an inherent right in the American Declaration of Independence if not longer. And yet we are dominated by an anxiety of becoming as every aspect of our life is now our responsibility and can be shaped in so many different ways: the school we go to, the country we live in, our partner or our job – and even our identity. The anxiety of choice can lead to a paralysis of action or just going with the flow. Or even when action is taken, the level of satisfaction decreases once you know you missed out on so many options that could have been better. The more options you have, the higher your expectations regarding what you pick.

If you fail, it’s your fault because you made the wrong choice. How do you know it’s the right one? The wide range of alternatives makes it even harder to choose and puts an enormous strain on our energy levels. Soon inertia and change aversion set in. This is why we tend to accept default options, especially if we trust the choice architects or if the choice is too technical for us to make. Give employees the option to choose between 50 pension providers or enroll them automatically on a recommended pension scheme and overall enrolment will be considerably higher in the second case.

Although default options make it easier for us to navigate choices, they impede the learning process and our personal growth. Take GPS for instance. Studies have shown that taxi drivers who find their way around without GPS experience positive alterations in their brain. Choice-making is a good exercise for the brain, but also for our self-esteem and confidence.

The danger with this passiveness of choice is that you risk losing your sense of self. Active choosing brings with it a personal responsibility and close identification with outcomes – and ultimately a strong sense of identity: this is who I am through the choices I’ve made. Not to mention that every choice contributes to self-awareness: knowing what you like or dislike, need, can tolerate, what makes you happy, what are your values and so on.

Behavioural economics has revealed that actually the choice is sometimes not even ours. Dan Ariely talks about the illusion of choice. There are greater forces at play that model our behaviour such as loss aversion. For example, I won a pass to a dance festival I didn’t even want to go to. Because I knew I would’ve lost a pass worth 80 euros if I hadn’t gone, I ended up spending five times as much to get there just so I wouldn’t lose something that I didn’t even have in the first place! We’re also manipulated through framing: would you rather go for a 90% fat-free product or one with 10% fat? And then there is unconscious bias.

So why stress about choices when you’re not even in full control? Well, but you know what? At the end of the day you will regret more what you didn’t do than what you did. There’s no right or wrong – just the best for the time being. No choice is final. Believe in second chances and plan B. Have an open mindset: it takes some failing to succeed.

A wise man once told me we’ll never be happy until we accept, take responsibility for and are at peace with our choices. A wise woman once told me that sometimes when you cannot decide all you need is passion, instinct, intuition. If you too have protected yourself emotionally for too long, your heart mechanism might need some reactivation to become passionate about your options and choices again.

So don’t choose not to choose. Your life deserves your active participation. Just live adventurously. Take a chance on life. Whatever the outcome, you will learn from it and grow. Follow your gut feeling every now and then. Life cannot be lived fully rationally. And forget about the opportunity cost – what you lost by not making a different choice. This is your story. And you’re not the only writer anyway. So take it easy.