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“No” Is a Complete Sentence? 1024 685 Thayer Fox

“No” Is a Complete Sentence?

Do you have trouble saying “no?” How many invitations do you answer “yes” to because you are afraid to say “no”? Afterward, do you use the word “should” to justify your response? “I should stop by that cocktail party for twenty minutes.” Why didn’t you give a clean “no”?

I heard in an Al-Anon meeting years ago that the word “no” is a complete sentence. It was a breakthrough moment for me, and all the times early on in my sobriety when my AA sponsor said that I over-explained and gave away my power came rushing back. The woman speaking added that you could even say, “…thank you”afterward if “no” alone sounded too sparse. “No” does not need to be followed up by an excuse or dressed in elaborate details. Fear and guilt do not need to accompany a “no”.

As I have grown, so has my relationship with “no”. After years of saying “No thank you” without further explanation, I added another line when I was responding to people or organizations that matter to me. I now create an opening for a “yes” to exist. For example, when invited to a cocktail party (I don’t drink, and dislike standing around and small talking), I say “no thank you” to that invitation and suggest a walk in the park instead.

Tim Ferris has a great podcast about various ways to say “no”:

Listen to How to Say No from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/id863897795?mt=2&i=1000395251247

I have noticed that women have more trouble with “no” than men do. Does it reflect our societal views on femininity and the proper way for a woman to behave? Does a clear, female “no” transmit a vibration of conflict or disruption because of its rarity? Or do women intrinsically care more about being accepted and loved? “No” definitely threatens our need to belong.

I said “no” the other day, and it took two hours for the conversation that followed to exit my brain. It was surprising to me because I had gone through phases when “no” was as easy as “yes”. I was asked to participate on a committee at one of my children’s schools. It was a time-consuming endeavor that held zero appeal. I re-read the email three times and played out various scenarios. I was flattered by the kind reasons they gave in asking me to perform the role, but I knew that was not a reason to say “yes”. Saying “yes” to potentially boost my child’s standing or curry favor in the school community equally inauthentic motivations. Both of those reasons tie back to my ego and need for significance. The only way to arrive at a “yes” in this scenario is if volunteering at the school occurred to me as an act of love.

There was a cc list on the email, and I debated whether to hit “reply” or “reply all”. Would the committee discuss my “no” and create a narrative about me? Would I become a bitch or become difficult to deal with, or just be regarded as plain old selfish? The good news is that people already have set opinions of us and it takes a lot more than one volunteer role to alter the way someone sees us long-term.

Too many small and seemingly benign “yesses” separate us from self, from our WHY. I love the Derek Sivers philosophy—it’s either “Hell yeah” or “No”.

https://sivers.org/hellyeah

There is no middle ground. Being aligned with self-gives us access to power. After doing work to identify my values clearly, decision-making became a breeze. I will write a post about a process I went through to determine my values soon.

Another waste of time is rehashing a “yes” response. If you think carefully about your reasons for a “yes” or ”no” in advance, then once you say it, the internal conversation must be over. The amount of mental space I used to spend questioning my ”yes” and “no” decisions wasted more time than actually showing up at something for a few hours.

Take notice of your first response to a yes-or-no question. The yes or no is always present in our body before our brain starts computing all the reasons why or why not. Whenever we talk to ourselves using “should”, we are in “no” territory.  If the cellular response is “no”, stay present to the way your mind handles the “no”. Look through all the smart reasons it produces to change the “no” into a “yes”: it’s just this one time and if I don’t say “yes” I may not be invited again. What will a “no” cost you? Get in touch with that fear and see where else it dictates your life.

“Nos” open up the space to fill your life with “yes” experiences. If you are feeling blah or lukewarm, take a look at your “yesses.” Too many seemingly benign “yesses” will lead us to an internal dead zone. The “Hell yeah” trail always leads to exhilaration and growth.

What is Hindering Your Task? 1024 683 Thayer Fox

What is Hindering Your Task?

We all have reoccurring thoughts in our daily life. One of my many themes is the thought that something is always getting in the way of what I am supposed to be doing. If I could only eliminate that barrier, then everything would fall into place. What is hindering my task?

What I am supposed to be doing is never crystal clear; I just know it’s not what is happening around me. My daily life can show up as an obstacle course that I need to get through before I can return to my “real work.” The way I operate regularly assumes that my real work has nothing to do with my family or the rest of the world. Refereeing my children’s arguments, listening to my husband talk about work, and engaging in any social rituals that I find unfulfilling, all show up as tasks that distract me from what I am meant to be doing during my lifetime.

I operate with a fixed belief about what needs to take place for me to produce something that could be labeled as a “contribution” in the world. The bar is high, to Mars high. Being driven and focused when my husband is at work, and my kids are at school is one thing, but it’s never enough. I look for opportunities throughout the evening and weekend schedule to escape them and return to the intensity of my time alone. It’s a subconscious and nagging pattern. A part of me believes that when I am engaging in the work that I deem important, destiny will arrive and reward me.

It’s all bullshit. I had that breakthrough this past weekend after listening to the incredible podcast below:

Listen to Jack Kornfield – Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy in the Present from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-tim-ferriss-show/id863897795?mt=2&i=1000404894600

It’s a long one, and I listened to it over a two-day period. Jack Kornfield is an awakened soul.

There is an AA saying regarding how a newcomer should choose his or her sponsor that I loved right out of the gate, “find someone who has what you want.” Obviously, this doesn’t mean a great coat. A sponsor is a mentor who guides you through the 12 Steps of AA which is where the transformative power of the program lies. Old-timers suggest that you carefully listen as people share at the meetings and then approach someone afterward who embodies qualities you would like to cultivate in yourself. Fourteen years after first hearing this phrase, the concept still guides how I choose people who participate in my life. It’s never the words that grab me, always the energy underneath.

Jack exudes patience, humor, and humble purity throughout the interview. He talks about Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation center in Woodacre CA that he co-founded in 1998. They hold silent meditation retreats there regularly. I immediately grabbed my calendar, ready to figure out when I could slip away for ten days. My only hesitation was not being able to speak to my children after I took my vow of silence. My children are 7 and 10, and we talk every evening when I travel solo.  In my heart, my family is my number one priority, even when they are showing up as burdens. The wheels were turning in my head as I mapped out different scenarios to make a retreat at Spirit Rock a reality without breaking the connection with my children. Half listening due to my new inner struggle, Jack shared a prayer taught that he learned from his Buddhist monk teacher, Ajahn Chah, during his time in Thailand:

“What makes (family life) work is that you have that intention…. Not just to soldier through it…. (but to say) “Let this be a place where I awaken graciousness, an inner sense of freedom and peace as things come and go…. Where I awaken the possibility of presence… in pleasure and pain and joy and sorrow and gain and loss… and that in all the changes, I find an inviolable or a timeless place of becoming the loving witness of it all…. Becoming the loving awareness that says “yeah, now I’m having a family experience, this is the place to find freedom.” Because freedom is not in the Himalayas or the Amazon; the only place it’s found is in your own heart exactly where you are.”

I had tears in my eyes by the end. Freedom is where I am. Right here, right now. There is nothing needed. Everything meant for me, will continue to show up if I live with intention, committed to opening my heart daily. The next leg of my journey may not show up as exciting as spending ten days at Spirit Rock, but I know that by choosing what is in front of me, I will find fulfillment. The time for a Spirit Rock retreat will come.

I taped the quote that Tim mentioned in the podcast next to my computer

“That which hinders your task is your task.” Sanford Meisner

Whatever registers as a nuisance or distraction today is the exact thing that I need to embrace.

 

 

Systems Are For Winners 1024 768 Thayer Fox

Systems Are For Winners

Recently, I listened to How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. I read the paperback version a week before hearing it on Audible. I highly recommend doing either. When Scott said early on that goals are for losers and systems are for winners, I was hooked.

Scott’s an original thinker with a shrewd sense of humor. It’s evident that he is a humble guy who enjoys his life. HTFAAEASWB is not written as a self-help book, although I found it more helpful than most books in that category. The ease with which Scott shares ridiculous stories from his past gives the reader permission to lighten up around some of their perceived failures. Scott’s view is so optimistic and energizing that I walked away feeling enormously excited about putting his advice into practice.

A key distinction Scott makes early on in HTFAAEASWB is the difference between Goals and Systems. One of my new systems, for optimal material retention, I already mentioned in the first paragraph. When I read a book that hits home, even if I love and underline every word, most of it evaporates in a month. Maybe this is a 44-year-old female thing, or perhaps I am just running out of storage space; whatever the cause, I wanted to create a new system to integrate thought-shaping books fully into my DNA. Reading or listening to them once doesn’t get the job done. HTFAAEASWB is the second book I have tested successfully with this two sensory approach, so now it’s officially become one of my new systems.

Scott also says that goals are for losers. I laughed out loud as he explained this in detail. He goes on to say that people with systems are the successful ones. It’s helpful when someone gives language to something that you do and don’t realize you do because that way you can start doing it with intention. My life is full of unconscious systems, and I am a far more successful person now than I was back in my goal-oriented youth.

In my 20’s, I was always chasing some goal. Losing 10lbs, finding a better boyfriend and saving up for a new article of clothing were consistently the top three. Clearly, these weren’t lofty goals, and they still consumed my focus. Yielding rapid, tangible results, the 10lb goal was my favorite, and I would embark on new diet plans regularly. The pattern was the same; I spent a month focused on losing the weight, reached the goal and then abandoned whatever it was that I had been doing the past month. Most of the diets were of the extreme variety so that I could reach the goal as fast as possible. I wasn’t just a goal person; I was a cut corners to obtain the goal person. I would then celebrate my weight loss with a pig out meal of French fries and cupcakes.

Goals are great distractions packed with short-lived highs that keep us nestled in a false reality. They spare us from having to look a layer deeper. Gaining and losing 10lbs a few times a year kept me busy. It was a much more comfortable subject to focus on than my alcohol issues and unresolved trauma from my childhood.

In my 30s, unbeknownst to me, AA introduced me to the world of systems. Systems helped me stop drinking and stay stopped. Friends and family used to ask me when I would graduate from AA. People go to AA meetings their entire life because AA is a system for staying sober, the same as eating healthy and going to the gym is a system for staying fit. AA taught me that all permanent change happens within a system structure. Simultaneously, my standards got higher, and this was the key. I created a new identity based on my higher standards.

Goals happen outside of identity and systems happen within.

The issue is that most of us defined ourselves a long time ago based on outside influences. Our parents, peers, teachers, bosses created our identity. We didn’t choose who we wanted to be, so our standards are a reflection of other’s thinking. Lucky for me that I was forced to start from scratch when I entered AA. My character was too warped to salvage after years of excessive boozing and bad behavior.

It was hard work developing a new identity but what a gift it was long term. I continue to update it every year, building systems to support new identifying traits. For example, I just started calling myself a writer two months ago. I thought I wasn’t allowed to call myself that until my name was in print. We often have random rules like this, which dictate our future possibilities. Sure, I had a goal of becoming a writer one day, which existed outside of my identity. There were periods I wrote and periods I did not. In January 2018, I made a choice to call myself a writer. Bold decisions have magic in them, and the commitment solidified after a few days of sitting down at my desk and writing. Writers write regularly, that was my new requirement for membership.

Over that hurdle, I started experimenting with writing during different times of the day to figure out when I was most productive. The morning was the winner. The entire process took a month to cement. Now every morning I sit down at 8:30 and write to 11:30. It’s a non-negotiable new system like going to AA or the gym.

Updating your identity is a choice that is always available. Decide what you want to be and set up systems to support you. Habits may take a few months to cement but change happens in an instant.

 

The Gift of the Broken Shoelace 1024 684 Thayer Fox

The Gift of the Broken Shoelace

We all experience weeks where everything that could go wrong does. One thing that I know by now is that these weeks will pass, a blip on the radar of my life. It’s how I handle them that counts. Do I act out? Do I make them mean something about my spiritual progress? Will I allow a broken-down week to send me into a nosedive that requires a month-long repair? How quickly can I turn a breakdown into a gift?

I am at the end of such a week; it’s uncomfortable and not where I want to be. I have utilized every tool in my arsenal and relief is temporary at best. Prayer, meditation, sleep, exercise, service work- these practices which usually shift my mental state are not working, and frustration is only planting me more firmly in the space I am trying to escape from.

All the issues I have been dealing with are of the “broken shoelace” variety. I learned that term in AA. The substantial problems in life are not what take us down; it’s the piling up of the broken shoelace issues that slowly chip away at our serenity.

It’s easy to access faith when I feel great, and things are going my way. I also know how to plug into God during a calamity. Disasters spike our adrenaline and promise spiritual lessons that will eventually enrich our lives. Showing up during a traumatic experience is purposeful, spending three days dealing with a broken computer are not.

These off weeks are no cosmic accident either. They usually take place after I go through a high energy phase of productivity and inspiration. I have a tendency to become less vigilant about the maintenance of my spiritual condition when I feel good.

I have a list of the levels of consciousness by David R. Hawkins pinned on the board next to my computer. I have been staring at it a lot the past week during calls with the Apple and Microsoft help desks. How did I revert to a ping pong ball bouncing between anger and pride? Haven’t I put in enough work to earn my permanent slot between love and joy. What will it take to get back there? Do I still have to go through all the levels or could I just skip the line and jump right back in at joy after a great meditation?

David is the author of many brilliant books on the subject of consciousness. I have read two that I recommend: Transcending the Levels of Consciousness and Power vs. Force, The Hidden Determination of Human Behavior. I read them after I received the list below at a year-long course I took called The Evolutionary Collective.

Having this metric to track me has been life-altering. Knowing that courage is the portal to higher altitudes has helped me embrace discomfort and fear in a way that has not historically been my pattern.

It hit me as I was staring at the list and writing this that I can’t move past anger until I give up my judgments about anger. Self-judgment leads to self-loathing. To get to courage, I have to step into vulnerability- become a loving witness instead of a judge. Once I stop making anger wrong, movement becomes possible.

At Date With Destiny with Tony Robbins three months ago, I learned that my emotional home is anger. An emotional home is a primary emotion we default to when we experience setbacks in our life. We all have one. I had an angry father, and I used anger to protect myself. Anger served me for a long time, so I need to acknowledge its purpose every time I return to it. Building a new emotional home takes hard work, just like hammering together an actual structure. Consistent practices that wire me to positivity and gratitude are essential in creating new neural pathways. When I am vigilant, I spend a lot more time in gratitude and love than I do in anger.

Today I am practicing acceptance. I will passionately take on all the practices that open my heart, letting go of any results. Whatever shows up, today will be whole and complete just as it is. I am grateful for the week of broken shoelaces because it gave me the opportunity to recalibrate and recommit.

 

When You’re Hysterical, it’s Historical 1024 683 Thayer Fox

When You’re Hysterical, it’s Historical

Have you ever experienced an immediate and overwhelming emotional response? As if a swarm of angry bees suddenly possessed your mind? Your heart rate accelerated as your body entered fight or flight mode? You called five friends to describe in detail the atrocity that occurred, later realizing that your reaction was disproportionate from the actual trigger? If so, then you have experienced an Amygdala Hijack.

Before I learned this terminology, I heard people in the rooms of AA say, “when you’re hysterical, it’s historical.” It took a while for this concept to sink in, but I knew right away that this applied to me regularly.

A few years into my sobriety, life got pretty good and yet I was often a wreck. Seemingly small incidents would set off my internal alarm system, and I would freak out. After a few hours, the overwhelming emotions would subside, and I would have to go and clean up the mess I made by overreacting. I got sick and tired of saying sorry. Around six years ago, I learned about an Amygdala hijack. Learning the science behind “when you’re hysterical, it’s historical” changed my life. Here it is:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack

The good news is that there are actions that you can take to diffuse this unbearable emotional state more quickly. Awareness is always the first step in creating change. Increasing your emotional intelligence will help you identify when you are in a hijack. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is an essential book on this topic. Here it is:

Make a list on the notepad in your phone identifying your biggest triggers. Becoming familiar with your trigger list will immediately depersonalize the situation. Awareness does not prevent the storm from happening, but it will stop it from turning into a category 5 one. Once you realize that you are in the grips of a hijack, don’t react directly; focus on breathing and count backward in your head, starting at ten and repeating as necessary.

The sensation to release the upset feeling is powerful, and resisting the urge to share is the best tactic. If you cannot do this or need confirmation that you are in a hijack, speak to one safe person. Be mindful, that the more you tell the story, the stronger the swarm becomes. I sometimes ask my husband to support me, “I am starting to lose it, can you listen to me for a few minutes?” As soon as he confirms that my reaction is over the top, I stop talking. Another tool I learned in AA and utilize when triggered is restraint of pen, tongue, and email. Until the swarm is gone, it’s too risky for me to address the situation. An Amygdala hijack passes, and with older triggers, it can take an hour or two. The less time you spend giving it life, the quicker it will move through you.

My Amygdala was hijacked a few days ago. I haven’t experienced one for a while, and it was uncomfortable. I was caught up in a frenzy after a seemingly benign text message. Daniel listened to me patiently for ten minutes until I experienced a pattern recognition aha moment. One of my biggest triggers was activated – when I perceive someone has been dishonest by omission for personal gain. Sneakiness gets me every time, wiring back to a pattern in my family of origin. When I realized what was happening, I put my phone away in a drawer in my bedroom because I was tempted to respond. I counted backward as I paced around the apartment.

Walking is a great way to break up and redistribute negative energy- see my post below:

http://thegrowthproject.blog/move-a-muscle-change-a-thought/

I continued to kick the disturbance out of my mind every time it popped up and my heart rate finally normalized. I had done no external damage, so no apologies needed. I thanked Daniel and picked up a book.
That’s a win with an Amygdala hijack.

 

The Gift of Being an Alcoholic 1024 683 Thayer Fox

The Gift of Being an Alcoholic

Grateful for my DNA, being a recovered alcoholic is the best part of my life. I cannot fathom another way to experience this life other than through the wide-eyed wonder of sobriety. For the past fourteen years, I have plugged into energy beyond the limited container of self which has allowed me to be a light giver; part of a solution in this big, messy world.

My mindset as a child was drastically different. Born with an existential crisis raging inside me, I felt stranded here. Is this it? There’s got to be more….? People often ask about your first childhood memory, and those two lines repeated regularly are mine. Sobbing as I watched ET is another early memory. I identified with his longing to return home. I didn’t know where my home was, but it didn’t feel like it was on Park Avenue. After reading more on extraterrestrial life, I started taping notes on my window pane at night so my alien family could locate me; beam me the hell out of here.

When this didn’t happen, I shifted my focus to finding C.S Lewis’s Narnia by knocking on every inch of wall in our apartment. After exhausting that possibility, I started studying parapsychology and the occult, asking spirits from my Ouija board to send me signs. Increasingly detached from the movie set world around me, I became acutely aware of the subtext, the conversation occurring beneath the spoken conversations being had all around me. I noticed how people’s words and energy didn’t match. The awkward gestures, the break in eye contact, the divide happening in the most well-intentioned interactions. I longed to connect with people beyond the sterile, soulless way I witnessed.

The opportunity to drink presented itself at age 11. I was at my older friend Edith’s house up in Maine, where my family spent our summers. She taught me what proof meant on a bottle of alcohol and how to replace the alcohol you drank with water so your parents wouldn’t catch you. My first drink was a shot glass of Wild Turkey. It burned my throat going down, and I was concerned that it would damage my esophagus for a few minutes before a warmth overtook my body. Everything softened, my friend looked hazy as we stared at each giggling uncontrollably. We climbed out of her bedroom window onto the roof and lay in the sun for hours listening to The Grateful Dead. A secret portal to another world opened at last.

I drank to quiet the voice in my head. I drank to make the world more bearable. I drank to experience a connection with other people. I drank because of a genetic predisposition that I inherited from my father. I drank because of the undercurrent of anger in my home. I drank to be “cool” and create an identity for myself. I drank to be loved. I drank until I couldn’t remember why I needed to drink in the first place.

Alcohol helped me cope with painful events. When I was seventeen, my father shot himself. His decision tormented me until at the of age twenty-nine, buried alive under years of mistakes and self-loathing, suicide seemed like a logical escape plan. I stockpiled prescription medication asking myself every morning if today was the day that I would end my life. Alcoholism is a progressive disease; it works until the wreckage outweighs the relief. Once the elevator starts descending, it never goes back up. When suicide becomes a re-occurring, rational conversation; you have reached the basement.

Giving up drinking was not a conscious choice that I made one day. The series of random people and experiences that flooded my life at a critical time had nothing to do with me and can’t be written off as coincidence. Something that resided deep inside me chose life. For the first few years, I hated going to “meetings” in church basements. Apparently, AA was the last stop on the train where losers came to complain. I didn’t believe that I had anything in common with them; my story and pain were unique.

The best part of AA is that you don’t have to like it or want to be there for the process to work. If you don’t drink, go to meetings and work the step program with a sponsor, you will transform in spite of yourself. You can share about how much you hate it there, and people will smile and tell you after the meeting how much your rant helped them.

I heard many people share at meetings that sobriety restored them to the way they were before alcohol kidnapped their souls. I didn’t understand this concept because I never had a self, there was no material worth keeping. I dumped my broken Thayer shell and started building from scratch.

Inside any AA room, people are in different phases of recovery and the context is always growth. We unzip our personalities at the door, committed to sharing our truth from a deeper place than personal opinion. It’s an inclusive, no matter what community filled with pure emotion. Strangers saved my life.

Freedom is knowing that I am only rowing the vessel of my life, relinquishing the navigation to a force much more majestic than my limited brain. Today, I can step outside myself, show up and serve another human being without strings attached. The best part is that I can’t claim credit for what I have become.

For myself, I don’t believe in the anonymity part. AA was established over a hundred years ago when alcoholics were locked up and given electroshock therapy. When I want to connect with someone new, it’s the first thing I tell them, what they need to know about my story to know me. It’s the gift that I have to give away. Aside from being able to help someone else who struggles with any addiction or knows someone who does, my life is a stand for transformation.

None one is damaged beyond repair. Being broken is only a story. When I came to understand that the most shameful parts of my past inspire and support others, I stepped into strength. Becoming useful gave my life meaning. The darkest corner inside you? The one that you built cement walls around years ago and don’t dare discuss with even your closest friends?

Your gold is waiting for you there.