Why Appreciation is Necessary 

There is something to appreciate in every day.

Ugh! That old adage? Yes. But, only because it works.   As a society, we have become spoiled. You know it’s true. The people around us are quick to point out what they deserve, and what they demand. Have you ever had this experience?

You are enjoying your meal at a restaurant, when the patron in the booth next to you begins his litany of complaints. The soup was too hot, the bread was too crunchy, the butter was salted, the ice water was tepid, the steak was too chewy, and the fork was too heavy, and so on. Suddenly, you find yourself looking at your meal with appreciation. You feel bad for the server, who has to listen to the complaints. You make sure to compliment the meal, the server, and the restaurant as you leave, because you don’t agree with the complainer. You just practiced appreciation my friend.  

 Simply put, the bad side of things can force us to recognize the good side of things. We appreciate electricity when we have been without. We savor foods, when we are hungry. We tell our loved ones we missed them when we’ve been apart. It is not the nice stuff in life that makes us feel appreciative; it’s the not so nice stuff. It seems backwards – right? We like to think that the positive makes us more aware of the good things in life. The truth is, when things are going well, we tend to just relax into it. We let go of the stress. We don’t feel so defensive. We just feel good. When things are going well, we like it. Being in a state of bliss, however, doesn’t force us to seek out positivity, unless we have made it our practice.

 If you study the lifestyles of the truly happy, you might be surprised to see that these people have not lived a charmed life. In fact, most truly successful people have a background in pain and suffering. Horrible childhoods, poverty, personal failures, and epic career mistakes are usually the main theme of the successful. So, what makes their life so different than your? Mindset.

Your mindset will determine so much more than you understand. Think of it this way. Your mind is like a magnetic force. It is constantly seeking out experiences that line up with your unconscious thoughts. So, let’s compare two mindsets:

1) Why does this always happen to me? – This mindset operates in victim mode. Everything that happens is taken in and processed as an attack by the universe.  

2) What can I take away from this experience? – This mindset operates with intention thinking. Everything that happens is taken in as a learning experience, and filtered appropriately for the individual.

 I’ll be honest. I operated in victim mode for years. I believe it’s a default thought process for most of us. It’s easier to focus on what went wrong, than search for the positive. I also believe that the media we surround ourselves with highlights the negative via sensationalism. The news focus is primarily negative. Your social media is no doubt filled with the negative experiences of your peers. And your inner voice has had years of experience pointing out your flaws. Negativity attracts more negativity.  

 Surely, you have seen an unhappy group of people. They all complain. They all sulk. They all seek each other out. Rarely do you find a happy member in the group, at least not a long term member. It is said, that we become the average of our 5 closest relationships. So if 4 members of your inner circle are critical and negative, you have the same tendencies.  

Now that we are all depressed, and really rethinking our friendships, let’s focus on the other side of the coin. I mentioned that I operated in victim mode for years. Past Tense. I am happy to say, that if you find yourself stuck in victim-ville, you can escape. For me, it all goes back to that first heartbreak I wrote of in my last post. And chances are, if you wrote down your memorable moment, you can find your escape route also.

After my first heartbreaking encounter with attraction, I would love to report that I became a self assured young woman, and no longer allowed myself to be vulnerable. That would be a lie. I spent the majority of my school years, trying to navigate though the halls with as little attention as possible. I lived on the outskirts, and cringed when the spotlight came near me. I spent hours looking at myself in the mirror, and hating everything that was reflected. I dealt with pressures to fit in, and an inability to do so. I was unable to look at the positive side of things. I instead focused all of my attention on what could go wrong. What could happen to me. I wondered why everything was so hard for me.  

It wasn’t for many years that I found my voice, and changed my life. But it was during this time, that I experienced the laws of attraction. With all of my thoughts on negativity, and fear, my mind worked to provide a match to my internal dialog. I saw all of my physical flaws. In turn, the school bullies were quick to see them as well. I worried about embarrassing myself. I embarrassed myself. There was a pattern, even though I didn’t recognize it.  

My negative mindset assured that my world view matched. I became the victim I thought I was. I often wonder if I had been shown how to practice appreciation in those early years, how much more would I have experienced? I’ll never know, but I know this. I am thankful for the painful moments that exposed the beauty I see now.  

Because my heart was hurt, I learned how to process emotional pain. I didn’t learn by processing it in a healthy way, but rather by letting it consume me. Heartbreak number one was devastating to the 11 year old girl. Heartbreak number 2 was even more devastating to the 14 year old girl. Heartbreak number 3 was crippling to the 16 year old girl. Each heartbreaking experience further fueled my negative dialog. I went into experiences with a predicted outcome, a negative outcome. And, I always got it.  

 Wait a minute! I thought you were going to tell me about intention thinking?

 I am. Intention thinking is my default thought process…now. Those years I spent being the victim in my own life, taught me how to use appreciation as a plot twist. In the middle of any melodrama I find myself, I can immediately change the direction of the story by choosing to shift my focus. I apply the following techniques to my situation, and re-create my story.

1) Pause. I actually say this out loud, most of the time. This is the cue I give myself, that I need to stop the current direction of my thoughts.

“I woke up late, and now my whole day is shot…”. >>Pause<<

2) Survey. When you pause your dialog, you can take notice of your surroundings. Look only at the facts. Those things which are concrete and true.

Fact: I woke up later than I would like. Fact: I have less than my normal amount of time to prepare

3) Reframe. The original dialog that was paused was not a picture I wanted to match. Reframing, is a way to rearrange the dialog into a positive frame.

“I woke up late, but that’s ok. I can make up time by skipping my morning latte, and have coffee at the office instead”

4) Praise: Tell yourself what a great job you did. As juvenile as it may seem, we all still love praise. We cannot count on society to deliver our praise, so we must acknowledge it on our own.

“I am getting so good at this mindset stuff!”

 Hopefully, you can see the importance of your mindset. It’s one of your most valuable tools, so use it regularly. Now then, let’s talk homework.

Take out that horror story you wrote. Last week, you put it down on paper, and forced yourself to notice how small it appears on paper. Writing it down, takes it out of the large storage area in your mind, and condenses it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t matter, or that we think it was insignificant. It means that we are refocusing our attention from the negative fame, to the positive frame

Using this paper, I want you to find a highlighter. Any color you want. I want you to highlight the negative.  

For instance, I wrote: Who else would risk their reputation to be, in way, shape, or form, associated with me?  

Those words described what was going on in my mind, and none of it was positive. Those thoughts were labeling me as a victim.  

 After you have highlighted the phrases, it’s time to practice appreciation. I want you to ask yourself these two questions: 1) Are these words fact, or opinion? 2) Do I want my world to reflect these words? Once you have those answers, it’s time to write your appreciation phrase.

“I’m sorry I believed this about myself, but I am thankful that I know these statements are not true. I know that I am an amazing person, and I am surrounded by people who can see that.”

Appreciating the past, for its lessons is an important step for all of us. We cannot learn without mistake and failure. The painful moments brought more than bad memories. They brought experience. They brought knowledge. And with intention (or intentional) thinking, they now bring power. You are now, re-scripting your brain. This is your story to tell

 And telling your story is exactly what we will discuss next time

A simple way to make peace with your past

Acknowledge Everything 

Yes, Everything.

I know, I know…that is not fun, or funny. This whole thing is a scam! Boo – Hiss!

Ok, now that the band aid if off, let’s dive in.

Everything has meaning. Even paper cuts and spaghetti stains. Now, to be clear I am not a subscriber to the theory that everything happens for a divine reason. Hey, sometimes, it happens because I was trying to hold hot coffee between my knees and execute a three point turn. Having said that, I believe everything has a meaning. Let’s reflect on a time in my life that had meaning.

I went to private school via financial aid and scholarships awarded to low income families. That put me in the middle of a socio-economic world that I was not equipped for. In my youngest years, I was oblivious to all of this. Young kids are friends with whoever shares a snack.  

“OOOH, peanut butter cookies…let’s be besties”

My meaningful moment came from the tender age of 11. A fun time to be a young girl. Everything is changing, but nothing makes sense.  

I was the nice girl. I still am…luckily. The problem with being a nice girl in a not so nice environment is, you are an easy target. You guessed it. I was targeted. Allow me to take you back.

Visually, I was in my awkward stage: bad perm (thanks for that trend 80s), skinny body, bad skin, and no fashion sense. A dream! In my school, and all schools, there were groups: the cool kids group, the smart kids group, the athletic kids group, the misfit group, and a small group of kids that just existed on the fringe. The last group was my group. **It wasn’t until I was an established grown up that I found all of us were actually in the same group, the desperately trying to fit in group, and all those labels were pure crap**

I was nice. I was able to be quiet, nod my head and smile in just about any group. But I was never part of the group. Some of this was due to moving around a lot as a kid. When you don’t attend the same school, with the same kids, you don’t have rooted friendships. That put me at an immediate disadvantage. I was new, but not exciting. The kids viewed me much like they would view a new chair. Not excited, but not annoyed that I was there. My off brand clothing and lack of official Trapper Keeper alerted the masses where I fit in, so I was not a threat to anyone’s status.  

My teacher, Mrs. S, was a master of harmony. In the confines of her classroom, we all appeared to be on a level playing field. The groups worked together like a well oiled machine, and we all felt connected. Until lunch. That was the moment, you found your place.  

Is there a more horrifying thought than carrying your lunch box into the vast lunchroom with no idea where you are to sit? I still remember the moment I surveyed the tables and silently prayed for a fire drill. The groups claimed tables like the explorers did new land. Book bags serving as borders, letting you know immediately whose space you were occupying. I carefully plotted a course to the edge of the lunchroom and took my place on the bench, near the wall. It was then that a voice called out to me. She (one of the popular ones) was beckoning me to her table. It was right there that I knew God answered silent prayers. I quickly walked to the table, and took my place among the elite. I am certain that I sat three inches taller that day. This group proceeds to introduce me, interrogate me, and welcome me. It was at this lunch that I met him. He was one of them. He was the funny, confident kid, the one that all the girls liked. I was so nervous I didn’t even finish my lunch. After lunch we returned to the classroom, and my life was just a little better.

As the weeks went by, I was allowed to remain at the table of the elite, answering more questions, getting extra attention from him, and learning how to adapt to my surroundings. I remember smiling through the confusion when they mentioned brands I had never heard of, talked about cars I had never seen, and attempted to disguise my knock off Dr. Pepper by wrapping the can in a napkin. Everyday, he would sit next to me, include me in all of his jokes and genuinely make me feel as though I was special.

One of those magical weeks, he passed me a note. It read “Do you like me? Yes, no, or maybe.” I probably blushed for hours. I hid the note in my pocket, as it read “Shhhhh” on the front. When we returned to class, I quietly circled the box that represented “Yes”, and I kept it tightly guarded until I could hand it to him after class. I swear that class lasted for weeks. As we all piled out of the doors, I and my giant smile, rushed to hand off the note. He took it, and quickly placed it in his pocket before leaving. As we waited for our parents to pick us up, he opened the note and smiled at me. It was true love y’all. As the crowd of children thinned, he moved closer to my spot on the sidewalk. Quietly he asked “Can I get your phone number?”

***For the younger ones: we did not have cell phones, and had to speak into a phone with each other in order to communicate when we were not together***

That very night, he called! I sat in my room, like a lunatic, answering his questions and listening to him talk about himself. This continued for weeks. At school he would only acknowledge me during lunch, and only in a very group focus way. Then after school, he would call. In my mind, it was beautiful. After all, this was the first time a boy had called me, and made me feel anything.  

Then one night, it happened. The moment that shines through my memories, and helped shape me. On our nightly phone call, he asked the question “Have you ever been kissed?” I’m pretty sure, if I had been seen by anyone, I was glowing red with the blush of embarrassment. Kissed? Me? Not a chance. The last time a kiss had been brought up to me by a boy, I firmly stated that I was not allowed to kiss boys per my father’s orders. I was 9, and quite the rule follower. After a long pause, I quietly admitted, that I had never been kissed. I did not mention, that I had absolutely no idea what that entailed. We need not tell people everything – right?

 This began the planning and orchestration of my first kiss. He was eager to get things moving for me, and was quick to tell me what an honor it was that he was going to be my first kiss. I wholeheartedly agreed. He told me at this time, that in order to kiss him, there were rules. This was all new to me, and I assumed that it was standard practice. The rules were:

1. I was to meet him in the computer room after school

2. I was to be alone

3. I was not to tell anyone that I was meeting him

4. I was not allowed to tell anyone that he had kissed me

5. The room lights had to be off

6. I was not allowed to leave the room until he left (waiting 5 minutes)

It was at this moment that my relationship persona was being formed. I still remember sitting on my pink bed, with the ruffled canopy overhead, in a state of absolute confusion. I tried to get clarification on the rules, but they were firm. I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up early, and picked out my best outfit. I don’t remember what I had for breakfast; I don’t remember what I learned in school. I don’t even remember lunch. I was focused on the fact that after school, in a dark computer room, I was going to be kissed. I had our wedding planned, and had written my new last name on all of my scrap paper.  

At 3:15pm, on a Friday afternoon, I stood in a dark computer room. My heart was beating, my palms were sweating, and I was more excited than I had ever been in my life. I watched the clock tick by and sat on a little orange chair imagining my future. Tick, Tick, Tick

20 minutes later, I was still sitting in the dark. It was time to go; I knew it was time to go. My dad would be in the parking lot now, and if I didn’t come down, someone would surely discover me. Reluctantly, I peeled myself off the chair. I grabbed my book bag, and slowly made my way to the parking lot. Only a few kids remained, and I don’t recall who they were, or if they acknowledged me. I walked to the car, buckled up, and was thankful that my older brothers occupied the conversation with my dad. When we arrived home, I went to my room, and pretended to play with my dolls.  

It was after dinner, when the phone rang. I knew it was him. I didn’t want to speak to him. I wanted to hurt him, like he hurt me. Instead, I took the phone to my room and listened. I listened to his lame explanation that his friends wanted to hang out, so he just couldn’t make it. After all, they might see. I listened as he told me that we could just try again on Monday, and as long as no one was around to find out, he would be there. I listened as he explained this honor I was on the cusp of receiving. After all, who else would want to kiss me? Who else would risk their reputation to be in way, shape, or form, associated with me? Somewhere during this conversation, I accepted the new plan for Monday, and we ended our phone call. My weekend was consumed with thoughts of how it would be different this time. This kiss would change everything. I would be accepted by all of the right people. I would suddenly break out of my awkward stage. I would be transformed.  

 As you may have guessed, Monday turned out the same as Friday. Tuesday and Wednesday didn’t quite work out. And by Thursday, my ego was destroyed. I had nothing left to hope for. I had forever lost a piece of me. The innocent heart had its first scar. It was marked now, and it didn’t feel the same. I didn’t feel the same. I wasn’t the same.

Thursday night, when the phone rang, I was broken. I took the phone to my room, sat on the bed, and listened once again to the excuses. He talked without pause, while I listened. He never saw the tears that streamed silently down my cheeks. He never heard the rage in my voice. He never saw the fury in my eyes. I sat in near silence, once again agreeing to meet. Only this time, where hope usually sprang up, my scarred heart wouldn’t allow it. I hung up the phone, and hung my head in resignation that this was my place in life. I was an understudy, never meant to be in the spotlight. Never meant to be noticed. I was only useful for practice. I was not worthy of anything else.

Writing this down for the first time is insane. It’s like fiction to me now. If you knew me (or if you know me) you’ll surely say…No Way! But I assure you. It’s true. It’s also a huge part of who I am. This scene launched a series of events in my life that have absolutely shaped me into the woman I am. I would love to say that it happened quickly, but I can’t.  

On Friday, I didn’t go to the computer room. I went home. He didn’t call. On Monday, he didn’t talk to me. On Tuesday, he had a new girlfriend at the table with him and I started sitting at another table. No one noticed. No one asked. No one cared.

How in the world did this event help me find my funny bone? Odd as it sounds, this story is one of triumph. I bet you didn’t notice the moment though. My moment was Friday after school. I stood in the hallway looking at the computer room. I glared at the doors. I felt the scar on my heart tighten, and I closed my eyes. When I opened them, I was done. I was done with the game. I understood it. It hurt me, but I refused to show that. I refused to repeat the joke. I had no misconceptions about who I was or what my place was, but I wasn’t willing to play along anymore. I knew somewhere inside, there was more. More of me, more of life, just more. When I made my way across the parking lot, I saw him. He was sitting on the handrail with his friends. The wind was blowing his hair all over the place, and I remember thinking he looked like an Ape. His eyes met mine, and I saw the shock of confusion. I saw the fear. Fear that I was about to blow his secret and expose him to his friends. I saw it, and I loved it. I relished knowing that he was afraid of me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t confident enough to use that. Instead, I simply marched to the spot my father would pick me up from, and did not turn around. I wanted to. I wanted to stare at him. I wanted to let him know I was hurt. But I didn’t. I knew the plot now. I understood my role, and I accepted it. It would be years before I gained the confidence I have now. It would take several heartaches before I developed a sense of worth. It would take many bullies and thousands of cruel words before my wit and humor would rise. But this day is always where I go to when I doubt my ability to overcome. It was the day I stopped allowing someone else to plan my life. It was the day I unmasked the Ape.

 As time passed, puberty was not kind to this fellow. I enjoyed watching him come to terms with his hormonal issues, bad skin, and ridiculously long armpit hair. Seriously, it was like Rapunzel under his arms. Though I had my own struggles and hurts, it was oddly gratifying to watch the mighty fall. It helped me remember two things. 1) No one is exempt from pain and 2) How you were made to feel, is more powerful than how you were told to feel.   

I was told via, teachers, friends, parents, and TV that I was amazing and wonderful. But it only took one hairy boy, to create a sea of doubt. That sea tried to take me under, as I navigated though life. It surfaced time and time again. Each time reminding me that I was someone who deserved to be hidden and kept in the dark. However, I learned how to navigate it. I learned to sail on the choppy waves of despair, and self doubt. I learned to search out the truth and hold onto hope. I learned to be me. That’s what we all have to do. Learn to be ourselves. Not the censored version that everyone prefers. I’m talking about the true you. The one you know is in there. The one you like. The one you know can do great things. That’s the one. When you acknowledge the events of your life, no matter how crappy, and learn to use them properly – you will find that you are capable of navigating even the choppiest seas of self doubt.  

So your homework, yep, there is homework. Put it down on paper. Find a notebook, open a new word document, whatever…just write it down. Write down the event that you avoid. Put on paper. Look at the words you write. Look at how small they are. Look at how they can do nothing but stick to the page. Realize that this memory, however painful to recall, cannot jump off the paper and entrap you. It holds no power over you. In fact, by writing it down, you are in control. You determine which words to use. You determine the tone. You tell the story. Too often we are victimized by our pasts, and we don’t tell the story. We live it internally. We let it take up valuable residence in our head and stay trapped in the past. I want you to take the control away from the memory. Basically, I want you to be the boss. It’s your story after all. Shouldn’t you direct it?

 Once you have that story written down, and properly acknowledged, you’ll be ready for the next step…and my next post