Category Archives: life

10 Steps to Reassure Yourself: Your problems do not define you

“One of the challenges of moving through fear is identification. After a while, you identify with the problem for so long that you don’t know who you are without it. So, now instead of trying to navigate through try to imagine who you would be without the problem and be that. Allow a loving world that is beyond this fear to fill your mind and heart. Imagine being free and then be it. This is the bridge home.” – Derek O’Neill

I just came across this quote yesterday in a welcome e-mail for a NYC Meetup Group. It really hit close to home. Seems that lately I interact with people who have a major underlying issue hindering them from taking on the world at full throttle. Each of us has one (if we are lucky, some have more than others) particular cloud hanging over our heads, following us wherever we go. We constantly think about this issue, whether it’s a health condition, career dissatisfaction, money struggles or relationship woes. This one thing that’s troubling us can end up consuming not only our every waking moment but creeps into the subconscious mind, plaguing our dreams and robbing us of our health. This can result a general disturbance in the body with mental, emotional and/or physical manifestations.

When hit with waves of frustration or despair, we must fight it. But everyone who has ever swam in an ocean or similar open body of water knows that there is a method to fighting this volatile force. You can’t face the waves head on, but you must allow yourself to immerse and go with the flow up until a certain extent, when you can seize a moment of weakness and make your way out. Similarly, when faced with a problem, no matter how big or small, we must be able to take a step back, evaluate and come up with a strategy to deal with it and come out unscathed (or at the very least, alive and safe). I’ve developed my own way of riding out the storm when things upset me, which I’d like to share with you:

Step 1: Identify the problem. What exactly is it that upsets me? Why does it have this effect on me?

Step 2: Locate the source of the problem. Is it an outside trigger or an internal interpretation that is the root cause of my unhappiness with the problem?

Step 3: Evaluate whether the problem can be solved.

  • If it is ongoing – can it be fixed or at least lessened to some degree?
  • If it is in the past – can you come to some sort of closure with the parties involved, perhaps ask for or grant forgiveness and offer to mend things?
  • If it is internal – do you have what it takes to fully assess the problem yourself, or do you perhaps need some outlet to get your emotions out (try talking to a friend/counselor, or some creative outlet, such as music, art or physical activity/dance).

Step 4: If it can be solved – do it. See above and choose any favorable combinations.

Step 5: Accept the worst case scenario. What is the worst possible outcome of this problem? Imagine the cascade of events which culminate in the worst way possible. Can you live with that? If yes – than you can live with any other less-bad end result!

Step 6: Learn to live with it. Even if everything is at a standstill – with neither improvements nor declines, you need to come up with a coping mechanism. This doesn’t mean give up. All the while, as you are fighting and coming up with new possible solutions and plans of actions, you need to keep your sanity up and your life force beaming. You can’t let this problem hold you down and send you in a downward spiral of self-pity and depression! You were there before the problem, and hey, you will survive! Death is the only problem that has a definite finality, and (for the most part), it is the ultimate problem with no solution. Everything else can be dealt with and lived through.

Step 7: Distinguish yourself from your problem. You are not synonymous with your problem! It does not define you or change your worth, or your goals. Your life has a purpose and meaning, and you need to stick to your true path to the best of your ability, devoting as little time and focus to the problem. After all, sometimes you need to let the storm pass and ride out the waves, because fighting mother nature can be a futile effort…

Step 8: Be happy despite the problem. Happiness does not depend on how healthy, wealthy, or popular you are. People can be happy with as much or as little as they allow themselves to be. The richest people in the world can be the loneliest and the most miserable, and vice versa. Handicapped people can lead extraordinary lives full of love and happiness in the face of adversity. It is all in the eye of the beholder, and all up to you.

Step 9: Crowd out the problems with gratitude. Be grateful for the good things in life. Focus on positivity, and bring more of that into your life. It really does negate the dark and empty spaces. Look around, and see how much good you have; you probably have what someone else out there is yearning for, and you don’t even realize it. Appreciate the good things and seek more good things that you can occupy your mind with.

Step 10: Love yourself. Love your problem too. It doesn’t define you, but perhaps it made you the person you are today. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, that’s my motto! We are all dealt exactly the hand we are meant to handle. We just need to approach that hand with grace, methodical skill and faith in ourselves. Forgive yourself, and love even your flaws.

I hope these steps help you as they’ve helped me. I’ve realized that I’m surrounded by people who seem to be going through what at first seems like hopeless situations. Maybe it’s because my peers and I are now entering our mid-20’s, and are finally coming into our own, and are putting weight on things that we thought we were immune to before. We have finally begun to realize who we are as personalities, what we truly want, and who we want to share our dreams and lives with. Everything prior to this moment was what our parents, society, or friends have influenced us to believe we wanted. It is these very premature beliefs that are holding us back now.

Do not let your fears or problems define you. Find our own way to accept and bear the problem, fighting back by the very act of not allowing it to control your life.

Eat to live; don’t live to eat!

You have probably heard of the saying, “Work to live. Don’t live to work.” Recently it just occurred to me that the same thing is true for food. During an age where the entire globe seems to be obsessed with food, weight and health/beauty ideals, it is about time we realize: We eat to live, we don’t live to eat!

[“Eat to live” also happens to be the slogan and title of Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, which explains the nutritarian diet.]

Do you find that your day revolves around your eating schedule? Do you long for the next meal like it’s your salvation? A lot of people are plagued with what they perceive as cravings for a certain food, a sweet, or a caffeinated beverages. What they are most likely experiencing, however, is a feeling of emptiness and boredom that they try to fill desperately by chewing on something. People turn to constant snacking to break out of the routine, to add a little pleasure sensation throughout the day.

There are three things essential to our survival in the physical realm: air (oxygen), water, and food, respectively. Notice that food is only the third requirement on the list. We can survive weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without oxygen. We need to fill our lungs with oxygen and make it available for assimilation by our cells almost immediately. Water makes up about 60-70% of the average human body, and balance must be maintained between intake and output. Food takes a much longer time to be processed and integrated into the tissue and eventually to the cellular level.

The process of digestion and metabolism of the food has been studied extensively but still remains among the most controversial sciences. This, in turn, is responsible for the myriad of opposing dietary theories that float around the media, are propagated by the government in the form of food pyramids and guides, and are taught on all different levels at schools and universities. However, with mixed messages from food and health industries, and a focus on convenience and consumerism rather than sustainability and nature, people are as confused as ever about what to eat. According to Michael Pollen, author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” the human body is nourished by only about 1/4 of what we eat, and the rest of what the average person consumes is only detrimental to the health (see interview here).

Industrialized countries in particular have become obsessed with staying healthy and fit and determining the proper eating habits. Third world, countries, on the other hand (which, incidentally, have the lowest rates of psychological illnesses such as depression) don’t seem as concerned.

Even if you genuinely try to eat well and lead a ‘healthy lifestyle’ – the overwhelming presence of food as the centerpiece of our society is evident. We are constantly setting up lunch and dinner work and romantic dates, and checking out the local spots for good food and drinks to socialize. Our schedules revolve around food, and our day is broken up by eating times. We are habitually bombarded with food imagery from the media, and enticed by the smells of food encountered wherever we go. We let our stomachs govern our entire existence!

There is no question about it, food gives us more than just cellular nutrients – it has complex interaction with hormonal and neurotransmitter systems, which make us feel good. This may sound shocking, but here is a consideration: shift focus away from food and towards fulfilling your life with satisfaction on a much deeper level. Think about what spaces you are trying to crowd out by temporary “food highs.” Things like meaningful relationships, a career where you feel valued, a spiritual practice you believe in, physical exercise and ways to express your creativity are all areas of life that are often overlooked. Yet these are the things that truly count, that make us fully human on an emotional and spiritual level. It is no wonder health is defined as the sum total of physical, emotional, and social well-being (WHO definition).

Living healthily entails more than what you put in your plate and into your physical body. Living your life according to your dreams, goals, and values, with the people that you want to share it with, needs to be addressed. Only then can full health be achieved by proper nutrition.

What a difference a day makes

What if you only had a day left to live? How would you spend your last 24 hours? What would be the items on your bucket list that you could tackle in a day? Would you be concerned with regrets or qualms that have weighed you down? How difficult would it be to resolve some of these issues? Who would miss you the next day? Who would you want to know that you love them?

These are all questions that have crossed our minds in some format or another. For even while we live, we are aware that we are mortal and death is inextricably connected to all living things. Even if one day in our lives may seem uneventful or insignificant, it is one more day that we have at our disposal. We do not live in the past or in the future; we live in the moment, and each moment is precious. Although breathing is an involuntary function that is most often taken for granted, we should in fact be grateful for each breath we take. We need to take time out of every day to revel in the fact that we are alive, that someone cares about us, that our presence has made a difference to someone today.

It has been said that the three hardest things in life to say are: “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, and “Help me.” We shouldn’t let our regrets or fears plague us. If there are relationships in our lives that are toxic or unresolved, they need to be dealt with rather than swept under the rug for tomorrow. If you were wrong, apologize; if you were hurt, allow yourself to accept it so that you can heal;  if you need help, ask for support; if you want to tell someone how you feel, do it. Put yourself out there, no matter how vulnerable, because each moment is precious, and you don’t know if you will get another chance to express yourself. How would you feel if the person is gone the next day, and never got to know how you felt? Fear of rejection and pride often stop us from having fulfilling relationships. But you may be surprised (although you shouldn’t be) to learn that other people have the same kind of fears, problems, and hopes as you. Reaching out may be easier than you think, and saying things out loud to someone puts you on the path to acquiring what you are feeling. The point is, unless you try, you won’t know, and the road not taken can haunt your subconscious and manifest itself in the most unexpected ways.

We have today, and that is all we know. So today, say what you mean and mean what you say, because life is too short to leave things for tomorrow.

Creating crowds out the negative space

Love is the opposite of hate. Courage is the opposite of fear. Life is the opposite of death. Creation is the opposite of destruction. More than that, creating is the antithesis of every negative state. When people create, they transcend the limits of time and space, and breathe life into the previously inanimate and uninhabited.

Creating is the ultimate purpose of life, because life breeds life, or Omne vivum ex vivo (Latin). It gives our lives meaning, it lets us interpret life and express it in our own way. It gives an outlet to our deepest, most intimate feelings. In Greek, there is a word for this: meraki. When we create, we share with the world a part of us, but no one can judge our creation. It is a legacy that lives on long after we are gone.

But people don’t do it for the fame, or the glory, or the money – none of that is even guaranteed. People that create do so because they don’t have another option. They don’t wait until they have the time, or the space, or the money, or the studio… They don’t make up excuses. They just create, no matter the circumstances or setting, because that is part of their existence. It is as essential as breathing, and it bubbles its way to the surface one way or another. It is a rush, a high, an adrenaline boost that gives them a reason to continue forward. This burning passion drives them to create and express their ideas, but it comes at a high price. Other things in life take a back seat; sacrifices are made in social life, family, and loved ones. It is a lonely journey, and it is not for everyone. Dreams have to take priority, while something’s gotta give.

But why are some people more apt in the creative process than others? Why do some people have more ideas than they know what to do with, while others draw a blank? Perhaps our brains are wired differently, or perhaps we develop our creativity based on our upbringing. Some people are more drawn to the careers of their parents. Artists, musicians, and sportsmen usually come from families where the craft has already been practiced. This gives them a system of support and understanding when they need their space, as well as the encouragement to follow their dreams in the face of adversity.

Whatever the case is, everyone can participate in the creative process. You don’t have to be an artist, musician, photographer, choreographer, world-class chef or Olympic competitor to express yourself. Cooking your meals, setting the table, decorating your home, and playing games with your kids (or your peers), or writing in your journal or blog, are all ways to get out there and get your creative juices flowing. Creating something, no matter how small, can make a big difference in your self-awareness and brighten up your daily routine. It is the best gift you can give to yourself and others, because it is a piece of you, and from it new life can be born.

How to use your time effectively

Time heals all wounds. Time will tell. Timing is everything. We have crafted all of these lofty adages and cliches, and yet..it is such an elusive and vast concept, it is difficult to wrap our minds around it.

“If only we had more time, then…,” we tell ourselves. Or should I say, we delude ourselves into thinking. The fact is, you can have all the time in the world, and still be the same procrastinator who is not progressing in life. In fact, the emptier your calendar is looking, the less likely you are to get up and do something. When we don’t have the motivation of time constraints, it is very difficult to get anything done. You keep putting it off, thinking you can afford to be lazy and not suffer consequences, and still get it done. You occupy yourself instead, with social media and meaningless browsing on the internet, or on the couch in front of the other big screen that sucks you in like a black hole. Have you ever sat down and calculated how much time in a day you spent with your computer and TV? That time just became your opportunity cost to do something, dare I say it, actually worth your while – something productive, meaningful, helpful in some way.

On the other hand, I find that people are most productive under pressure. It’s only when you have a deadline looming over them that your wheels start turning extra fast. It’s only when you know you don’t have that extra day, or hour to work on something, because you have plans that you can’t cancel. When your “time” is scheduled rigidly, suddenly, you have no time to waste. When there are all these activities planned ahead of time, somehow you find a way to fit everything in. There is a surge of energy, your endorphins start pumping, and adrenaline helps you accomplish everything you set out to do.

Most people get comfortable with a routine daily sequence of events, and get too overwhelmed to try to change even one tiny habit. We are comfortable with our phones, our electricity, our easy entertainment, our fast food..and yet are left unsatisfied. We say, “well, it’s too late to change anything now; it’s been too long; it will take too much time.” But we have to realize, Rome wasn’t built in a day! The fast-paced world surrounding us deludes us! We are still human, we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to love and be loved, and we need to work! We need to work and feel worthy, feel like we are contributing to a greater good. We need to look inside ourselves and feel satisfied with the day we lived. And we always need to strive to the next goal, to keep moving, to have meaning, to have purpose.

That sounds complicated – how does one do that? Well, the hardest part, as usual, is to start.

  1. Step one: figure out what is important to you, what you would like to see change in this world and in yourself.
  2. Step two: list the long term goals of what you want to accomplish; be realistic yet include some out-there ones.
  3. Step three: break these up into shorter-term goals, that you feel can be managed during a short span of time.
  4. Step four: dedicate a set period of time each day to tackle some of these goals. Even if they don’t get done in one day, this time will add up and eventually allow you to realize your goal!

Thinking about your dreams is a good start, but you must take action! Even 10 minutes each day spent working toward a goal will help! In fact, you may find yourself wanting to spend more and more time on it. You may get into “the zone” and enjoy the project so much that you won’t even realize the passing of time! And eventually, you will get more and more productive, and it will take you less time to accomplish what you set out! I encourage you to set deadlines for yourself, and schedule your time with fewer periods of “free time.” Schedule your time for pleasurable leisure activities instead of lounging on the couch staring into a black box. There is a world of exciting things out there – and no time to waste!

After you get what you want, do you still want it?

You always want what you can’t have; the grass is always greener on the other side; true happiness is “just around the next corner.” These are all idioms that epitomize human desire and drive. We are driven by our desires to conquer yet uncharted territory. We constantly crave something new, something different, the next upgrade or latest model.

But after we obtain the object of our desire – are we ever truly satisfied? How soon afterward do we start searching for the next pursuit? Is there a short-lived appreciation period where we bathe in the glory of the conquest at all? Or do we instantaneously lose interest and move on, forgetting about how badly we wanted that which we now possess?

Life is a delicate balance between desire, drive, and appreciation. We must always have goals towards which we strive – otherwise we cannot value our own life, and our time becomes meaningless. And our dreams guide us to set those goals. But is there some optimal point where we should stop and truly enjoy our successes, before marching onward? There must at least be a point where we should start slowing down and be grateful for the things that we have accomplished, and flourish in them. If we keep going at the same pace all the time, where will that lead us? On a goose-chase for the golden egg? Or maybe to the realization that the important things were there all along, but we have taken them for granted until they were gone?

I have a theory that the more people get what they want, the less satisfied they are after getting it. People become addicted to obtaining new things and experiences, just like they get addicted to anything else. They can never get enough.

The more people travel, the more they want to travel, see exotic places, and are in constant pursuit of the next place to visit or move to. Will these people ever find a place good enough to set down roots in? Or will they roam the earth like nomads? I’ve noticed this is particularly true for immigrants – they have already changed their whole lives as a result of moving, and survived it. After that experience – anything seems possible, and they actually desire to keep improving their lives by moving to other locations.

The more people date, the less likely they are to settle down with a partner. After all, there are plenty of fish in the sea. If you don’t try them all, you may never be sure of the rightness of your choice – choosing a mate should be an informed, educated decision! And the more people you meet, the better you get at pinpointing their flaws and discarding them at a faster rate. No one wants to waste time on building, compromising and growing. If it’s not all there on a silver platter, surely a full package will eventually appear. So we keep dating the same type of people, and have the same problems, and lose interest after we “get what we want.” I am by no means saying you should marry the first person you lay eyes on. I am just musing that at some point you should realize that there are only so many fish out there! The point is not to find some perfect version of a mate that you have in your mind. The real treasure is when you find a deep, chemical connection to another human. That can’t be faked or learned, but just is. And when it exists, everything else that is problematic can we worked on – if both people are willing and mature enough to do so. And it may just be wiser to treasure when you have something that feels so right, then to move on to another hunt that will not bring any more meaning into your life.

I will make better mistakes tomorrow

“I will make better mistakes tomorrow.” This was a quote I read on someone’s T-shirt the other day, and it has resonated with me and stuck in my mind.

Any way you slice it, we are human, and that implies that we are not immune to making mistakes. But, what exactly counts as a mistake? Who determines which actions are mistakes, and which ones aren’t? You can view an individual’s life as a series of choices that eventually turn into a unique pathway. Along the way, there undoubtedly were a lot of potential swerves and alternate pathways. And some of those probably resulted in setbacks, large and small. When the outcome of a step made makes a person feel negative emotions, that is usually a sign to double back onto that original road. This misstep is then viewed as a “mistake” by the traveler. Once we recognize it as such, we often feel regret, anger, sadness, guilt and disappointment.

What is the purpose of these emotions? I think they serve as teachers, reminders not to conduct similar behavior in the future to avoid similar consequences. For instance, our pain receptors teach us early in life not to do stuff that hurts us physically (burn ourselves on hot surfaces, scrape/bruise ourselves, etc.). So in a way, emotions, like the perception of pain, are self-defense mechanisms. Sometimes, however, this mechanism works in overdrive and causes imbalances. We get so eaten up with guilt and regret, that we cannot let go and move ahead.

I recently realized that the only person you could ever disappoint, betray, or otherwise let down, is yourself. We may get angry and take it out on others, but that is really a projection of what we our feeling for ourselves at that moment. The phrase “you have no one to blame but yourself” comes to mind. What messes a lot of people up are expectations. We have this vision in our heads of what outcome we want, and plan it out, and get excited. And if it depends to any extent on other people (and a lot of things in this world involve relating to other human beings), we get upset with them if something goes wrong. But in reality, we cannot expect other people to do what we want. We can’t count on them to act a certain way or live up to a certain standard. So placing too much value or trust in their hands is the mistake on our part. The involvement of another person to your plans places the circumstances out of your control, and it strips you of power. You are not vulnerable to the actions of this other person, and you only have your faith and intuition to help guide you to people worthy of your trust. So when things don’t work out as planned, you cannot blame the other people involved. You can only blame yourself for trusting them, and draw conclusions to withdraw that trust in the future.

On the other side of that coin, we often misplace our frustrations with ourselves into unhealthy outlets. I am a chronic procrastinator and constantly running late; I am a night owl that come morning regrets not going to bed earlier the night before; I am a people pleaser and have trouble saying no. All of these things result in me thinking ill thoughts and being frustrated/mad/annoyed. Instead of recognizing that I am hurting myself, I project my frustrations on my surroundings. Instead of admitting our faults, we make excuses and get angry. In order to face our own issues, we need to analyze why we are getting angry with others. Admitting we were wrong is hard, but it is so much harder to live in denial and misplaced emotions, (not to mention it may snowball into huge anger management issues later on).

This may sound cynical, but it is meant to be therapeutic. Things can only change when we overcome denial and recognize that it is a problem. So in the end, we are all responsible for our destinies. Sadly, we cannot count on (most) other people (although there is light at the end of the tunnel: there will be people you can count on, few and far between), unless they prove themselves worthy by their actions. We should try to be self-sufficient to avoid the pain of high expectations from others. We should also pay close attention to the consequences of our actions, so we can react quickly to rectify situations which may become unfavorable. And we should accept the fact that we are human and imperfect, and the only thing we can count on is that mistakes will happen from time to time.

So, I will make better mistakes tomorrow. That is a vow to myself.

I have a Reputation

I am by no means a mind reader, but I imagine that people judge me without getting to know me. I think most of us are predisposed to prejudice based on superficial perceptions. No one can truly gaze into another person’s soul and see the depth of all that is hidden within the infinitely complex layers inside. We can only see what a person projects outward with our most basic senses, and maybe a little something extra for those of us attuned to our intuition.

I imagine (more like dread, but have a feeling that it’s true) that people see my worst qualities first. Although I don’t mean to be, I’ve been told that I am difficult to approach and intimidating. I am a perfectionist, and I think that plagues me in terms of social networking (and I mean the physical social scene, not the virtual). I read an article recently that explained this phenomenon. People feel like they can relate to people when they see that they are flawed and make mistakes, which makes them more human, evokes sympathy/empathy and therefore makes them more likeable. I, like many perfectionists, have always tried to overcome or hide my flaws, always wanted to excel in all aspects of my life – not to rub anyone’s nose in it or appear better than anyone, but simply to try to be the best version of myself. I thought that that is what would make me more likeable and attract positive attention.

In my teenage years (cringe, glad that’s over!), I was probably seen as a goody-two shoes/nerd/teacher’s pet. Then in college/grad school, I was mostly a loner/outcast. I placed the most emphasis on my studies, most likely due to the fact that I was brainwashed by my parents that school should be number one. And I know where they were coming from, and that they always wanted the best for me. I appreciate all the values they instilled in me, and I love them very much. But I think a lot of people (in my own culture and in America) miss the big picture. We study hard, then work hard, to make money for our boss and the industry we are working in. We spend such a big proportion of our time working to make just enough to survive and save a bit for a rainy day, and are too tired at the end of the day/week for any real, good-quality downtime. And life takes on such a whirlwind pace that we barely have enough time to pause and look around us, or self-reflect, or enjoy the moment.

In the end, what do I want to say? That reputations are only a scratch on the surface. Who we are on the inside is usually a very private, vulnerable self, and it takes time and effort to project that true self (in most cases, only a handful of special people will go the effort and get that opportunity). We should stop and think, and reevaluate what we are doing and why, and if it’s worth it. We inherently need to have a meaning and purpose to our life in order to continue wanting to live. Feeling needed and useful inspires us to move forward. That’s what is important, and that, kiddies, is not really taught in school.

ZeroToHero DailyPrompt

Stop. Breathe. Repeat.

You know what we don’t get enough of? Air. We often forget to breathe. We run around all day like wind-up dolls and it takes great effort to bring awareness to what is essential: breathing.

Today I literally stopped what I was doing about every hour to deepen my breath. All day long I was feeling suffocated, like my lungs were not getting enough oxygen. New York, the capital of changing weather 24/7, is in the middle of another topsy-turvy climate – the humid/cold/rainy weather probably had something to do with my condition.

Every time you feel anxious, nervous, or hyper-stimulated, try to bring your awareness back to the breath. Focus on the here and now, breathe all that tension out. Fill your lungs with air by inhaling, slowly and deeply, through the nose and low into the belly. Try to feel your breath moving, and follow it diffusing through the lungs and into the blood, until it reaches all the cells of your body, down to the fingers and toes.

There are breathing techniques that are used for different effects on the body. For example, breathing through your left nostril calms you down, which can be useful during stress or before an exam. Breathing through the right nostril, on the other hand, wakes you up and gives your energy, so you can use this on a long car ride (especially useful for the driver).

We really don’t give enough credit to the power of the breath. But if you think about it, each breath is essential for maintaining our life force, until the next breath. We can go days without water and weeks without food, but we can only survive minutes without oxygen. So oxygen is the number one nutrient to nourish your body; water is the second; and food takes third place. Honor the breath and bring awareness to it periodically to get the full benefit of it.