Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Guilt of Going for It

Have you ever wanted something for yourself, and then felt guilty about wanting it?

It could be an interest, a goal, a dream, a win, or just about anything. It's common to want something and to experience guilt or fears of backlash about it. You might even wonder whether life will somehow punish you for following your dreams.

The guilt and fear can snowball into a superstitious belief that going for what you want is taboo and dangerous. Sound familiar? Let's look at this guilt in an open light.

First off, what is guilt?

Guilt is one word, but it can have many different shades of meaning. The dictionary describes guilt as:  "The fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime." The dictionary says that when you do something wrong, or someone else claims you've done something wrong---you feel guilty about it. In fact, there are many other triggers of guilt that have nothing to do with wrong-doing. Guilt can actually come from right-doing.

Guilt can result from wanting to do something right---by going for what you want in life! We're universally taught that certain dreams are acceptable to strive for in life. It often includes a family, a house, an occupation, a cat and a dog. These desires are definitely important to the extent that you want them, but they are not all that life's made out of. Each individual has unique wants and dreams outside of this picture. What are yours?

It's challenging to go after what you uniquely want, the things that no one else around you is striving for. Thoughts can pop up such as, "What will other people think about this?" or "Am I doing something wrong by going for this?"  You might fear that you won't belong anymore if you set off confidently in pursuit of your dreams.

You may also have second thoughts such as: "Am I imagining the importance of wanting this?" or "Am I on the wrong track and hurting others by selfishly wanting this in my life?"

The guilt can reach so far as to imply to you: "I'm a bad person." or "I'm crazy for wanting this." or even "When are the police coming after me?"

Facing your dreams head-on often triggers guilt as if you're doing something wrong...and sometimes lots of it. You may feel afraid of leaving others behind to go where you want. You may also wonder whether you're hurting those you're close with in order to live your dream.

To follow a dream, however, you have to walk your own path and and not everyone can be a part of that journey. Some people will be supportive. But other people may not be in favor of you getting what you want, and in that case you have to decide what you're willing to put on the line. It's an individual decision, and an individual risk.

Going for what you want requires the courage to face guilt when it comes up. Guilt is a very real emotion, but for many people there's a tendency to want to suppress it when it arises. You may think to yourself, I know what I want---so there's no problem, right? For most people, however, the journey to follow a dream involves personal challenges, growing pains, and frustrations. If you ignore the guilt that underlies going for what you want, you can't fully appreciate and harness the journey that you're on. You may even find that you eventually get a shell of what you want, without the real substance inside of it.

This month, ask yourself what you've been really wanting in life. Has guilt blocked your path getting there? Have you suppressed this guilt? Get to know the guilt a little better and instead of feeling like you're doing something wrong, you might remember that you're actually doing something right by wanting what you want.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Health and Your Inner Teacher

When you travel the halls of your memory, who do you remember as your most influential teachers? How did these teachers influence your life and change it for the better? Great teachers spark more than math, literature, or science in your life. They spark something else as well, something deeper and long-lasting that stays with you. As an individual living your life, you have another teacher you may not have touched on in your memory. That teacher is you! When you're trying to get healthy and support your body and mind better, your inner teacher is key toward achieving what you want.

Health involves learning. You learn about your body and which lifestyle habits foster balanced health, versus which habits derail health. But you also learn something else. You learn about yourself as a person, how you face challenges, and which obstacles are blocking your road to health. The journey toward health involves more than regimens for diet, exercise, and sleep. The journey is unique to who you are and where you're at in life too.

Bringing out your inner teacher to learn about your health isn't always easy. Everyone wants to believe they are perfectly healthy, and sometimes facing the reality that your health needs more support can be challenging. It means admitting that you're not perfect and that you still have more to learn. It takes knowing that supplements, medications, or doctor's visits alone can't keep you healthy. You as a person are an essential part of your health, and acknowledging this fact takes honesty and courage.

When you call forth your inner teacher in an open and honest way, you can explore your physical and mental-emotional health through a unique lens. You can ask yourself if there are societal and personal expectations that are burdening you and blocking your health. You can explore whether some part of your past unfairly has a hold on your health and who you are today. You can explore your relationships with yourself and other people to see whether they are supporting or hindering health. You can also notice how you manage stress and emotions and whether your current approach could use some adjustment for better health.

Good teachers both challenge you out of your comfort zone and patiently support you through the discomfort that can result. Getting healthier can feel strange and uncomfortable at times. The body and mind are used to doing what they always do---in other words, homeostasis or equilibrium. They will maintain states of health, but they also maintain states of unbalanced health. To get healthy, your inner teacher has to push you beyond comfortably unhealthy habits. On the other hand, your inner teacher also has to patiently help you through these potentially awkward transition periods and regularly remind you: "I can do this!"

What steps have you taken lately to bring out your inner teacher on the road to better health? If you feel that it's been a while since you've listened to your inner teacher, that's okay. He or she is always there and you can turn to that side of yourself when your health feels neglected or stuck. Remember to give your inner teacher the same respect that you would any other great teacher in your life.

As you head into the autumn season, a period of time that is infused with transition in the air around you, encourage your inner teacher by asking  yourself the following questions:

1) What are current strengths in my health?
2) What are some weaker points of my health that require more attention and learning?
3) Without focusing too much on the past or the future, what steps can I take today toward better health?
4) What are my obstacles to health in the present moment?
5) How can I create space in my life for my inner teacher to express itself and help me with health?

As you ask yourself these questions, you'll find that your body and mind naturally know which direction to go in---if you listen to them. By paying attention to your inner teacher, you'll learn new things about your health and how better to support it. And you'll enter your own hall of fame of great teachers.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Health is Wealth

What is wealth? The word "wealth" can quickly trigger images of money, cars, savings and bonds, and whatever else can be accumulated with currency. But how often does the word "health" pop into someone's mind when thinking about the meaning of wealth? These two words do rhyme, and that is often the extent of the similarities seen between them. But health is wealth!

Think about what helps you get through life each day, supports you while you're earning a living, and gets you through challenges. Your body helps you do all of this! Picture yourself with healthy energy levels, managed stress, good sleep, smooth digestion, glowing skin, a strong body, and a spring in your step. Does that picture remind you of wealth? A worn down or neglected body, however, often feels like the opposite of wealth.

Taking care of health on a physical and mental-emotional level makes you feel rich in a way that money can't do alone. Whether you're pursuing money or your dreams, your health is the foundation upon which all of these goals are built. When you're healthy, you actually have more energy and motivation available to make money in a healthy way too. Supporting your body and mind helps you not only do what you want in life, but it also helps you appreciate and enjoy this journey more fully.

What happens when you don't support your health? Without health, can you truly feel wealthy no matter what you possess? The only person who knows that answer is you. Quality of life is boosted when you value health as an important and indispensable source of wealth. Health makes wealth feel more balanced and in line with who you are as an individual.

How can you earn more health? First, it's important to realize that health is not separate from the other things you do in life to achieve wealth. It's an essential part of it. There might be areas of your health that feel neglected, and if so what are they? Imagine metaphorically putting "money" toward these areas so they get the attention and care that they deserve. Whether it involves getting more rest, reducing stress, increasing energy, losing weight, or any other health measure, learn to see these changes as valuable---just like you would view money itself.

Next, be honest about the influences that may be draining your health. No one likes losing money or watching it trickle away uselessly. It's more satisfying to use money toward things that you really want and that feel valuable to you. Learn to see your body and health in the same way. You don't want to see your energy drained through accumulated and ignored stress, careless lifestyle habits, or bottled up thoughts and emotions. If you're noticing a drain, find a way to address that hole so you can start to rebuild your health and energy levels again.

Finally, recognize areas of your life you that focus on excessively at the expense of your health. If you're a student, it's great to get good grades. If you're working, it feels good to make money and shoot for promotions. If you're taking care of your family, it's satisfying to see everyone happy. All of these roles are important, but they can also rapidly take over who you are and how you approach your health. Don't let these roles define your health for you. Practice balancing your health with your life.

It can be challenging to support health while trying to keep up with so many other activities in life. That's okay, your attempts don't have to be perfect. They do have to be honest, though. While you're working toward money or other goals, don't forget to build your health at the same time. Health goes hand in hand with wealth. This week, ask yourself how you can feel more wealthy toward your health.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Strong?

Strength is a useful quality in life. It helps us persevere, show toughness in the face of adversity, and survive as individuals. We, like all living creatures, are a part of nature and toughness helps us in a world where we don't always have control over what happens to us. It helps us get what we want, including what we want in our health. Though strength is desirable in life, at times it can be tempting to unnaturally "wear" or force it in order to block out other uncomfortable feelings.

What does this mean? Say that you've just been through a difficult situation such as leaving a job, moving to a new place, or enduring a break-up. Instead of looking at all the feelings that are bubbling up inside, you decide that you have to be strong. You're not quite sure why you're saying this, but you feel that for the sake of yourself and others that it's better not to rest idly in a state of discomfort or confusion. "YES," you confirm to yourself, "I have to be strong!"

This type of forced or unnatural strength is not the same as true strength. What it's effectively doing is suppressing a natural instinct to process what you've just been through. Maybe you are confused. Maybe you're hurt. Maybe you're mad, and even more. You may not necessarily know how to express all the rising feelings, but the firm declaration to not feel them and instead be strong will actually make you feel weaker---not stronger.

It takes energy to suppress feelings that want to come out. This drained energy can make you feel tired, and while you look in the mirror and tell yourself you're being strong, you'll know on some level that you're pretending. As you're blocking yourself in this manner, your health can take a hit and make it even more difficult to move through your challenges.

We can all learn to read clues from our bodies and minds on when to exercise strength versus when to encourage a more nurturing and gentle attitude. Just because you're gentler with yourself through tough times doesn't make you weak. Toughness and gentleness are two sides of the same coin, attributes that when used the right way can help you naturally face whatever you're going through in life. Abandon one or the other, and all of a sudden you can feel like the floor has fallen out from underneath your feet and you don't know why. It's because both strength and gentleness are needed to take care of yourself and your health.

Next time you encounter a challenge, ask yourself how much you're forcing yourself through "I need to be strong" boot camp. If you notice that you are taking this approach, try taking a step back and nurturing yourself and your health. You may end up being surprised at how much stronger you feel naturally with this more balanced mindset.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Take a Dose of Selfish, and Call Me in the Morning

When it comes to staying healthy, the role of selfishness can't be overestimated. We often hear how being selfish is not an admirable way to be. You're taught that helping others is more satisfying than helping yourself. Giving to others is better than giving to yourself. Caring for others is preferable to caring for yourself. Instead of adopting this mindset, it can be powerful to try out a new one. Take a dose of selfish, and call me in the morning.

Attending to personal health requires the skill of being selfish. And yes, it is a skill. We're so trained to see selflessness as the ideal that being selfish can feel uncomfortable at first. Selfishness, however, is important when trying to achieve anything in life. For example, if you want to publish a book one day, you'd have to be selfish with your time to have the opportunity to write. Want to enter a degree program? Then you'd have to be selfish with your resources and energy expenditure. Do you want to be healthy? In that case, it's wise to list selfishness among your top health care priorities. It even has to come before diet, exercise, and other specific health care regimens.

Being selfish isn't always bad. Health takes energy, prioritizing, time investment, and putting yourself first. It takes the courage to put your hand up and say "no" when you feel like outside influences are hindering your health. It also takes the brazenness to declare that you as an individual are just as worthy of getting your attention than other people.

I've seen stubborn cases of skin issues, weight gain, and many other health complaints improve from someone putting his or her foot down and deciding to be more selfish toward health and life in general. It's not always easy. When you decide to be more selfish, fears can arise surrounding doing things your own way and for yourself. You might be scared of how people you know will react. Your new approach can snag on others' expectations of you and the attention they're used to getting from you. Being there for yourself and for others doesn't have to be mutually exclusive, however.

When you are taking care of yourself the way that you need to, you'll have more energy and opportunity to be there for others in a realistic way. You'll also realize what your limits are and how much you're capable of giving to others without sacrificing your own health. You'll experience increased energy, more relaxation, and more balance in the way you approach life, health, and your relationships. You'll also be less likely to freely give away time and energy that you don't have available to give.

Think about your health. Do you feel like more selfishness is needed for you to feel and look the way you want? If so, ask yourself the following:
  • Where do you feel you've been giving away time and energy that you don't have available to give?
  • What areas of your health are asking for more attention?
  • How can you re-prioritize to allow more space for selfishness?
  • What fears come up when you think about living life more selfishly?
  • What does healthy selfishness mean to you?
As you continue on your journey toward health, experiment with doses of selfish and see how it goes!