Archive | Self-development

How to Tackle an Addiction to Work in Three Easy Steps

workaholic

workaholicMy chief goal for this year is to figure out why I work. Yeah, I know that sounds absurd. But when I created my New Year’s resolutions this year, I  realized that while my writing and personal goals were crystal clear, I couldn’t articulate a work goal beyond “work more.”

Another way to say this is that I am addicted to work. One definition of addiction is: “a psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance, even though it is causing psychological and physical harm.” Coming from a large, sprawling Irish family with its fair share of substance abuse problems, I use the term “addiction” advisably. But I think in my case, it’s apt.

Now that I have  – in classic, 12-step fashion  – identified the problem, it’s time to step back and begin to craft a solution.

Here’s where I’ve gotten so far:

What would you do if this was your last day on earth?

This is the question the HeadSpace App uses to guide its meditation on prioritization. Given that Headspace is a mindfulness app, the question is posed softly and gently. But it is, of course, the eternal question we all need to answer.

Oddly enough, it’s also the first question I ask my friends who come to me for career advice. “I don’t know what to do with my life,” they will say, or some version therein.  I always begin by asking, “If you had an entirely free day tomorrow with no commitments whatsoever, how would you spend it?” Or, if you prefer, “What your 90-year-old self would advise you to do?”

In my case, I know I’d prefer to spend at least a third of my day writing. Of all the things I do in a day, writing is the activity where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. But at the moment, I’m not even close to achieving that 1/3 goal.

Practice Being Your Future Self

I’m stealing this strap line from a Harvard Business Review article. The upshot of the article is that once you’ve figured out the key components of your ideal day, you need to block out time to practice being that future self. (This is a familiar piece of advice to anyone who wants to be a writer, which essentially boils down to:  Start writing.) But what really resonated for me in this article was the way the author, Peter Bregman, framed the “future self” imperative. He writes: “You need to spend time on the future even when… there is no immediately apparent return to your efforts. In other words… if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.”

That framing really hit home for someone who consistently conflates being productive with being busy. On any given day, doing the thing that you love can feel like you’re taking valuable time away from the 10,000 things you “need” to get done. Not so, says Bregman: “It’s the wildly important stuff that never gets done because it’s never urgent enough…or it’s too risky or terrifying” that you need to prioritize. True dat’.

Create Affirmations

Once you’ve set aside your “me” time, create some affirmations to reinforce that positive image of yourself. I’ve written before about how I’ve used positive self-talk in both my writing and my work. But in recent weeks, I’ve really doubled down. I’ve made a brand new list of ten affirmations tailored to the first quarter of this new year, which I repeat out loud every morning before I start my work day.

Of those ten, the hardest one to utter – but the one that matters most – is this: “It’s easy for me to say no to people.” It isn’t. And that’s not (entirely) because I often need the money. It’s because – courtesy of my addiction – I measure my productivity not in terms of number of sales or level of income (like most business people), but in terms of the number of hours worked. And with that as my metric for a job well done, more is always better. Isn’t it?

I’m trying really hard to focus on these three, big-ticket goals as I slowly work my way towards managing my addiction to work.

What strategies do you employ when you need to hit re-set on your own work/life balance?

Image: Workaholic writer via Pixabay

New Years Resolutions 2020

new year's resolutions

new year's resolutionsHappy New Year!

In recent years, I’ve dedicated myself to a concept at the start of the year, rather than a list. Past years have featured concepts such as slow living, authenticity and balance.

Although I’m quite drawn to thematic New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve not yet sorted out what this year’s watchword is. So I’m going to revert to form and list ten small, discrete goals I’d like to commit myself to in the coming months.

Here goes:

a. Take more baths. I’ve long suspected that, much like the pet vs. anti-pet distinction – you can neatly break people into two groups: those who are pro-bath and those who are pro-shower.  (Apparently, I’m right! There’s a whole #teambath vs. #teamshower debate I’ve blissfully ignored for years.) Given the rapidity with which I approach life, I’ve always stood solidly in the shower camp. But I want  to make 2020 the year of the bath – at least once or twice a week. I think it will help me to sleep better. And, courtesy of my 16 year-old, we now possess about  50 assorted bath bombs and I’m curious to see whether those actually make a difference. Some people drink wine in baths. I think I’m going to try reading…which brings me to my next resolution.

b. Watch more good TV.  My husband and I don’t watch a lot of television. On weeknights, we read before we go to sleep. And we’ve deliberately chosen not to subscribe to Netflix, Amazon TV or any of the other streaming services so as to make watching television that extra bit harder. But we also know how very good television has become over the past decade and are woefully behind on household names such as The Crown, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Shtisel. So on weekend evenings, I’m going to priotise good TV and see how many of these series we can work our way through. (Have already tried – and dropped – Fleabag. Sorry to disappoint.)

c. Work less. I’ve fessed up before to how hard I find it not to work on weekends. Although the ultimate goal here is to stop working on weekends altogether, I don’t think a cold turkey approach is realistic for me. But I do think I can manage to adopt a 24/6 strategy. Stealing a page from  Tiffany Schlain’s new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, which is all about unplugging from technology one day a week, I’d like to extend this concept to work altogether. I made this commitment about 10 years ago – declaring the Sabbath “me-time”  – and I really did feel the mental and physical benefits. So I’m going to try and renew this vow in 2020.

d. Schedule in Admin Time. One of the things I can never quite find enough time for is the assorted admin that governs both my work and personal lives:  responding to emails, billing clients, keeping track of expenses, planning blog posts. If you subscribe to the Getting Things Done methodology (and I now do, courtesy of Nozbe), you’re also meant to check in with all of your projects – as well as an empty drawer you stuff things into – once a week. Nozbe recommends that you find a nice place to do your half day of admin – a nice cafe, etc. – to make your administrivia more palatable. I think I first need to find that half-day, commit to it, and then find the location. (Currently eyeing converted Edwardian era laundry-turned-cafe/pub in my ‘hood.)

e. Write more. A little bit over a year ago, I began writing fiction. But I’ve also conceptualized a series of essays about family. While I’m at it, I need to find an agent for my book manuscript or bite the bullet and self-publish. Because writing for me is a joy, I try to be less hard on myself in this department than I am about hitting goals in my paid work. But there are certain milestones I’d like to hit this year – like getting a short story accepted – and that requires putting in the work.

f. Walk more. I don’t own a car, so that certainly gives me a leg up on this  goal already (no pun intended). But most of my walking is purpose-driven:  it gets me from A to B. On Christmas Day, I took a long, meandering walk around my neighborhood while listening to a podcast. It was utterly refreshing. I am blessed to live in a city with a seemingly infinite number of wonderful nooks and crannies, many of which you wouldn’t know about unless you stumbled upon them. So I am going to try and take more advantage of walking in the New Year. Lucky for me, new research suggests that my naturally brisk pace may decelerate aging. Yippee!

g. Eat less meat. Yeah, yeah. I know. Everybody’s doing it. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to cut down on your meat intake. Especially if you’re a meat and potatoes gal such as myself. But after listening to a recent BBC Radio 4 programme featuring author Jonathan Safran Foer on what we as individuals can do to help mitigate climate change, I decided I could make an effort in this direction. Foer says , “There are four acts which matter significantly more than all others, these are flying less, going car free, having less children and adopting a plant-based diet.” I’ve already done #2, it’s too late for #3 and I’m somewhat limited on #1 by where I live in relation to friends and family. That left eating less meat.

h. Meditate longer. I’ve long prided myself on my near-daily mindfulness practice. But my husband – a fellow Headspace aficionado – recently suggested that I increase my daily dose of meditation from 10 minutes to 15, as he does. Initially, I resisted. “I’ve got too much to do!” I retorted. He arched an eyebrow. So I tried it. He’s right. It’s better.

i. Create a new set of affirmations. This one’s a case of “Practice what you preach.” Not only have I extolled the virtues of affirmations on this blog, I also encourage clients to use affirmations to set and achieve their business goals. But your goals shift over time, so it’s important to update your affirmations accordingly. Check.

j. Celebrate the Sabbath. I don’t mean this literally. But I’ve discovered  that one of the most important ways for me to relax on weekends is not to go out on Friday nights. Whenever I do it, I always feel exhausted and anxious on Saturday morning, even if I had a good time. So I am going to start turning down all social invitations for Friday nights. Bonus! This will make more time for more “good TV”!

As I look over this list, I’m not quite sure if they add up to a collective watch word for 2020. I’ll keep working on that…

What do you hope to achieve in 2020?

Image: Top New Year’s Resolutions by Forth With Life via Flickr

My Love-Hate Relationship with Being Busy

vive la vie

vive la vieI was trying to plan an outing with a friend I’d not seen in a while. But when I looked at my calendar, I realized that my next window wasn’t for another month. “I’m really sorry,” I said. “October is insane. I’m afraid that’s the reality of being a freelancer.”

“No it isn’t,” she quipped. “That’s the reality of being Delia.”

Work First, Life Second

Although the comment stung, I knew she was right. Much in the way that other people are addicted to their phones or other, more nefarious substances, I’m addicted to busyness.

And the primary way that I make myself busy is through work. I frequently work on weekends. I tell myself that this is down to the “plight of the freelancer”  – and there is some truth to that – but I know that a lot of it is my own inability to stop working.

I was really proud of myself recently for carving out a three-hour window to see friends every Friday evening between now and Christmas. I finish teaching at 4 o’clock on Fridays and I’m usually totally beat. So I thought, “Yes! That’s when I’ll chill!”

I told another friend how excited I was about finding this window for my social life.

“You and your windows!” she said, shaking her head. (Are you seeing a pattern here with my friends?)

My friend organizes her life around seeing her friends, and slots her work in around that. I do the reverse.

Fear of Death

I’d love to tell you that my endless busyness is driven by the fact that I’m a high-energy person. I am. And particularly now that I love my job, I don’t mind working extra hours when I need to. Work is fun.

But it runs much deeper than that. There is a fear of the abyss – of how to deal with the thoughts and fears that crop up when I don’t have 10,000 things to tick off my to-do list. I worry that if I slow down, I won’t re-start.  It is, at the end of the day, akin to a fear of death. In my mind, to stop moving is to stop being. And who am I without constant movement?

This fear is particularly acute on Sundays, when I always feel like I’m right on the edge of a tidal wave of despair. But if I swim fast enough, I can just escape being swallowed up. Over the course of the day, what might have been depression morphs into a prickly disquietude. And I ward it off through work.

Paying it Forward 

When I was growing up, my mother used to say “I’m cold; put a sweater on.” It was her way of projecting onto me her own needs.

I hate to say that I now do this with my own daughter. Except that instead of telling her to put a sweater on, I tell her to stop being so busy.  My daughter does a gazillion after-school activities. (Apple, meet tree.) Her motto, which is emblazoned on a neon sign in her room –  is “Vive la Vie!”

Unlike me, however, my daughter isn’t busy because she’s fleeing something. For her, living life to the fullest means never saying no. If someone invites you to the theater or to a bubble tea or to a political protest at the last minute, you say “yes,” even if you’ve got a mound of homework to get through. She doesn’t want to miss out on life’s experiences.

I admire this in her. Just like I admire my friend who organizes her social life first and her work life second.

And yet, I am constantly admonishing my daughter to do less. “You’re too busy!” I tell her. “Slow down a bit!”

Who am I *really* talking to?

Vive la Vie

Not for the first time, I find myself taking life lessons from my teenage children. I think it’s time to put my money where her mouth is and vive my own vie.

Which is to say, it’s time for me to let go of the fear and be OK with slowing down.

I  won’t be able to do this  overnight. But I can start with Friday afternoons. Are you free for a coffee?

Image: Sentir la Vida via Flickr

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Why Running Your Own Business is Empowering

strong woman

strong womanI had lunch with a friend the other day. Like me, she launched a new business in her 50’s. Now, she’s launching another one (after taking a year out to recover from cancer.) When I asked her how she was feeling about all of this change in her life, she smiled.

“I feel great,” she answered. “I feel empowered.”

Her comment got me thinking about the word “empowerment.” Much like “leaning in,” empowerment is one of those buzzwords we all throw around  without really defining what we mean by it.

Saying No…and Saying Yes

One of the most important lessons you learn as you age is how – and when – to say “No.” Just as there are good reasons to accept work that doesn’t pay as well as you’d like when you need the money, there are equally good reasons to turn down work even if you have time.

Lately, however, I’ve also been enjoying the freedom of saying “Yes.” It’s not that I’m taking on work that I don’t really need or want. It’s that when a random opportunity crops up that’s slightly outside my comfort zone, I’m not instinctively saying “No” before I fully consider it.

I was offered two potential pieces of work this week that are both slight reaches for me. One is fairly far outside of my knowledge base and the other is for an audience I’m not familiar with.

I’m not sure I’m going to end up doing either of them. But the simple act of being open to an unexpected opportunity felt empowering because I was expanding my set of choices.

Setting Boundaries

My old boss once told me that I was exceptionally good at “ordering chaos.”

He was right. And while he meant it as a compliment, it can also be a curse. Whether it’s a paper, a project, or a meeting, if I encounter something that isn’t well-organized, I can’t help myself:  I fix it.

The problem is, sometimes that’s not my job. I was in a meeting the other day where the potential client was very much in brainstorming mode. I love that sort of thing. But at a certain point I could barely suppress the urge to leap up out of my seat, grab a marker and commandeer the white board to help structure the thinking.

That was problematic on two fronts. First, no one asked me to stand up; I simply felt compelled. Second, I sensed that if I did take ownership of that white board, I might very quickly end up running that project for them. And I knew I didn’t want that.

So instead of trying to order that particular piece of chaos, I walked away from it. I told those assembled exactly where I thought I could make a contribution, asked them to reach out to me when they were ready, and then exited the room.

My old work self would *never* have done that. She’d have taken notes and started project managing. But newly empowered Delia simply said, “Call me when you need me.”

Asserting Your Worth

Taking a page from Kayleigh and Paul on the Creative Class podcast, I raised my freelance rates this year. I didn’t do anything drastic, and I stayed within my market. I also waited until I had a solid track record of success – with the testimonials to prove it – so that I could justify the increase, should anyone challenge me. (They didn’t.)

With one of my clients, I also went back and asked for more money when the scope of the initial work expanded – in time and volume – beyond what we’d originally agreed.

A year ago – and certainly 5 years ago  – I never would have done either of those things. My M.O. would simply have been to keep absorbing more work, even if it felt unfair or over-burdening. Indeed, I would have felt guilty had I asked for more pay.

This time, in contrast, I felt like I was simply asking for my payment to reflect my true value and effort.

Empowerment as Liberation

Most people think of self-employed people as liberating themselves from offices. But I never had a problem with offices.

What I needed liberation from was myself:  my inability to say no to things I didn’t want to do, my reluctance to embrace things I might want to do, and my tendency to wildly over-compensate for other people’s shortcomings.

So I do feel empowered. But not in the sense of finally being CEO in my company of one. Rather, what running my own business has taught me is that I am free to make choices that make me happier. And Lordy, does that feel good.

Image: Strong Woman (Unsplash) via Wikimedia Commons

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Tips For Adulthood: How to Lower Your Expectations

Danish pastry

Danish pastryOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I was talking to my son on the phone yesterday. He’s at college in the U.S. – ( we live in the UK) – and he was telling me about a recent mid-term he’d taken in Economics.

“Yeah, I don’t think I did very well on it,” he said. “I’m hoping I got a B.”

Hmmmm. As someone who regularly sets the bar too high in just about everything I do, I had trouble swallowing this at first. When I was in college, getting a “B” in anything felt like a massive failure. But I suppressed that thought and instead asked him how he felt about the experience.

“I was bummed for a few minutes,” he said. “Because I did study for the test. But then I just went back to reading Antigone for my literature class and realized that mattered so much more to me.”

In other words, rather than castigate himself for not performing to his highest standard, he moved on.

Wow.  Not for the first time, I realized I was taking life lessons from my 18 year-old.

In that spirit –  and because I’m all about adopting a growth mindset – here are five tips for lowering your expectations.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Cherry Chocolate Danish Pastry via Pixabay

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In Search of Optimism

optimism

optimismI was working with a client recently on his public speaking. As part of an exercise, I asked him to recount a sad memory.

He paused. And then he paused again. And then he paused some more.

“Wow, that’s really tough,” he said, visibly struggling to call up a sad memory. “Something sad…hmmm. Give me a sec.”

After a minute or two like this, I finally interrupted him. “Can I lend you one of mine?”

The Importance of Reframing

This guy is lucky. Clearly, he hasn’t experienced as much sadness in his life as I have.

At least, that was my first thought. But the more I worked with him, the more I realized that it wasn’t just that he’d somehow managed to escape tragedy, even well into his 60’s.

It was that he’d made a conscious choice to be optimistic.

I’ve noticed a similar quality in one of my colleagues. We will deliver a workshop together and afterwards, he will immediately declare, “Well, that should translate into a business opportunity.”

Regardless of how well the workshop actually went, I’ll find myself responding, “Yeah, maybe. But what if…the CEO is felled by a tree/I contract a life-threatening case of meningitis overnight/Brexit wipes out all communications consultants now and forever more/Fill in the blank…” You get the idea.

We’ve experienced the exact same workshop. And yet one of us walks out and shouts “Hooray!” while the other one worries, “What if it all goes to sh#$?”

Choosing optimism

This same colleague has taught me a lot about the power of positive thinking.

I had already discovered the power of affirmations in my writing life — courtesy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way — long before I met him. But I’m now regularly applying affirmations to work life as well.

On a daily basis, I’ll find myself uttering things like:  “I’m a great salesperson” or “I enjoy client relationship management” and “I’m highly skilled at empowering people to achieve their full communications potential.”

Even when I only half-heartedly believe them, I find that these affirmations help.

As does meditation. One of the great virtues of the mindfulness app I listen to every morning is that it encourages me to discover the “blue sky” inside  – a happy place where the clouds part and the birds chirp and the rays of sunshine fill my world.

A lot of the focus in mindfulness is on accessing that blue sky feeling. Over time, you come to realize that it’s not something you need to reach for outside yourself; it’s something that’s already there.

The Power of Hope

The research bears this out. I was struck by a couple of recent experimental studies which show that if you induce people to be optimistic, they can actually change their behavior. In one such study, providing simple assets — such as a cow or other livestock — to poor people in developing countries led to increased labor and other investments on their part.

In another, respondents in U.S. soup kitchens were asked to recall a time they felt positive about themselves. This in turn resulted in more effort in playing simple games compared to those who did not receive the “optimism prompt.”

Hope, it turns out, is a powerful motivator.

Dreams of Hope

Perhaps this message is beginning to sink in.

As someone who is haunted by recurring dreams about test anxiety and getting lost, I recently had one of those classic dreams where I was in a play and didn’t know the lines.

But in this dream, the ending was different. Instead of freaking out and succombing to the performance anxiety, I chose instead to improvise the scene at hand. And, lo and behold, it worked out.

Just as with affirmations and blue sky thinking, maybe my bad dreams are trying to tell me something:  I’m actually OK. All will be fine.

Perish the thought!

Image: Sunbeam Sun Shadow Light Mood Sky by meineresterampe via Pixabay

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Recurrent Dreams

dreams

dreamsWell, as long as sleep is now the new sex, I thought I’d tap into what actually happens when most of us sleep: we dream.

Not all of us, I suppose. An old boyfriend of mine used to maintain that he dreamt mostly in images:  he’d be standing out in the middle of a field or perched atop a mountain.

Huh?” I thought. “You mean you don’t dream that someone’s chasing you around your kitchen table with a knife?”

Not only are my dreams hopelessly plot-driven and transparent, they are also recurrent. There are four or five dreams that I must have at least once a month. Every time, I wake up bathed in sweat. But once I began to reflect upon these dreams and analyze them more closely, I realized that they are all – in one way or another – telltale dreams of adulthood.

On the off-chance that you’ve had them – or similar recurrent dreams – I present them here so that we can all get a better handle on our collective demons:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50

Image: Realm of Dreams via PublicDomainPictures.net

 

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Why Anger is Useful

anger

angerI once took a course in college called Anger. Because I went to Brown University –  which has a reputation for being a bit groovier than the rest of the Ivies – it’s easy to mock a course called “Anger.” As one of my fellow Brunonians once quipped – “What did you do in that class? Hold hands, sing Kumbaya and pass around a ‘talking stick‘?

Sort of. There was a final project where you were encouraged to develop your own personal reflection on anger. One person did an indigenous dance. Someone else sang a song. I read aloud from a short story I’d written about discovering that my college boyfriend was cheating on me.

But most of the course was about reading. Each week, the professor would focus on one text –  the Old Testament, Moby Dick, Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The students would write a one-page paper on the text and discuss it.  The punch line of the course  – but one you only came to once you’d digested all of these treatises – was that anger, in the end, was really about sadness. When we feel angry about something, it’s because we are actually hurt by someone or something. And anger is the emotion we often use to express that sadness.

That insight rung true to me then and it rings true to me now. I’ve been really angry lately. In one instance, it’s with a relative of mine who has proved to be a real disappointment. She’s done some horrible things, including to me and other members of my family, and some of those things are not fixable. In another case, I’m angry with a friend who didn’t show up for me when I asked him.

But when I sat down and thought  – and, more importantly, wrote about these experiences in my journal – I realized that I wasn’t really angry with either of these people.

I was sad. I was sad because in both instances, the people in question revealed a side of themselves that I either hadn’t seen before or didn’t want to see. And in revealing these less appealing sides of themselves,  I experienced a sense of loss. Loss for the person I thought they were – or perhaps more truthfully – loss of the person I wanted them to be.

Letting go of anything that matters to you is profoundly sad. It could be selling your childhood home or being laid off from the company you love or breaking up with your therapist. And, let’s face it:  feeling angry is a heckuva lot more comfortable for most of us than feeling sad.

But one of the realizations I’ve come to as I age is that I’m actually better off confronting sadness than avoiding it. So in embracing my own anger of late, I have tried to observe that feeling, peel it back and allow myself to feel the enormous grief of accepting what is, what is not, and what cannot be.

I won’t lie to you:  it ain’t fun. But it does feel more honest.

Image: Anger, Angry Bad, Isolated Dangerous by Geralt via Pixabay

 

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Lifelong Learning: Cultivating Curiosity as we Age

Continuing Education

Continuing EducationNot long ago, I attended an all-day workshop on PowerPoint. It was designed for people who felt comfortable using the program, but who wanted to take it to the  next level. As I use slides all the time in my new consulting business, I thought it might be a useful skill to hone.

It was.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London twelve years ago, I’ve taken classes in everything from public speaking to improvisation to  how to write a business plan. In past lives, I’ve taken classes in freelance writing, beginning Hebrew as well as the  Continuing Ed class to end all Continuing Ed classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

People go back to school as adults for many different reasons. Often, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You collaborate. Above all, you have fun. (I’m currently eyeing a course entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway. Bring it on!)

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Continuing Education Adult Education Expo via Wikimedia Commons

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Tips for Adulthood: How to Cope with Sadness

sadness

sadnessOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve been feeling sad lately. For many years of my life, I pushed sad feelings away whenever they arose. I felt that if I just kept moving fast enough, I could out-run them. Often times, I did.

But one of the things that happens as you age is that you begin to confront your fears. And, hopefully, you develop new coping strategies to deal with your demons.

So this week, here are some strategies for how to deal with sadness when it comes:

a.  Meditation. I’ve written before about the power of mindfulness. One of the things mindfulness encourages you to do is to treat your thoughts and emotions as fleeting. The idea is that just as the breath comes and goes, so, too, do thoughts and emotions. So when anger, or sadness, or regret pop up, you don’t push them away. You see them, acknowledge them, and move on. “Oh, that’s anger,” you say to yourself. Or: “Oh, I’m feeling sad now.” Over time,  instead of  saying, “I’m an angry person,” or “I’m depressed,” you begin to say: “I’m sad right now.” But tomorrow my happiness will return. Because it’s in there too.

b.  Reframing. Over on Maria Popova’s brilliant website, Brain Pickings, she writes about the famous Austrian poet and novelist, Maria Rainer Rilke, and how he conceptualised sadness. While we may feel paralyzed by it in the moment, the ability to sit silently with one’s sadness is also central to personal growth. As he so eloquently puts it, “…this is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside.” Sadness is painful; yes. But it is also transformative. And it reminds us that we are alive.

c.  Poetry. I don’t read a lot of poetry. But when I’m sad, I find that poetry is the very best way to commune with my sadness and embrace it, as Rilke advocates. My mother, who does read a lot of poetry, has shared a lot of powerful poems with me over the years. Lately, I’ve been reading the Irish poet, James Claren Mangen, because, let’s face it, no one quite does sadness like the Irish. I’m quite taken with his poem, The Nameless One.

d.  Music.  As with poetry, I don’t actually listen to music all that much. My love for show tunes notwithstanding, I don’t tend to have a CD playing or Spotify playing in the background as I go about my life. When I’m sad, however, my go-to music is the music of my young adulthood, when I lived in Central America for a year. During that year, I spent an enormous amount of time listening to the likes of Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés, two giants of the Nueva Trova movement. So lately, instead of podcasts, I’ve been listening to that music as I walk around my neighbourhood or do the laundry. Much like watching a sad film, or reading a sad novel, this music speaks on some deeper level to my feelings right now. If you speak Spanish – and even if you don’t – go have a listen to Mi Unicornio Azúl.

e.  Writing.  And, of course, I write. For me, nothing helps quite so much in confronting sadness as putting thoughts like these down on paper.

How do you cope when you feel sad?

Image: Sadness by Serge Mercier via Flickr

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