How gratitude fuels prosperity

thank youYes, I’m still working through my prosperity classics.

One of the abstracts in Tom Bowden-Butler’s book sounded so interesting to me that I looked it up on Amazon and found that it was only a couple of bucks on Kindle, so I bought it.  It was Charles Fillmore’s Prosperity.

Charles Fillmore was one of the early New Thought leaders of the last century.   He founded Unity, a church within the New Thought movement which includes thinkers and spiritual leaders such as early ones like James Allen to modern-day New Thought practitioners like Caroline Myss.

One of the things you find in a lot of these New Thought/Positive Thinking books is that the secret sauce is gratitude.  You can work your butt off.  You can list goals.  You can network a web around every mentor and business leader and prospect in the country, but unless you do all of this with an “attitude of gratitude” your mileage on the road to prosperity is going to be akin to that of a Hummer.

“Many people who order their lives rightly in all other ways are kept in poverty by their lack of gratitude.” – Wallace Wattles

However, if you simply fill the tank with gratitude for anything that comes your way–if you simply thank God for the mundane as well as the miraculous, you may find you’re driving your way to prosperity at 50mpg.    Much higher efficiency.

Why is this?  To be sure, the mystics all talk about gratitude.  Meister Eckhart famously said that “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you’ that will suffice.”  But what does that have to do with opening up the door to abundance–to prosperity?

Poet, author and teacher Stephen Levine says:

Gratitude is the highest form of acceptance. Like patience, it is one of the catalytic agents, one of the alchemist’s secrets, for turning dross to gold, hell to heaven, death to life. Where there is gratitude we get the teaching. Where there is resistance we discover only that it keeps us painfully ignorant.

So when we are grateful we tap into the flow.   When we tap into the flow, we have access to an aura of abundance that that creates a magnetic attraction.  People become attracted to us.   Doors become open to us.  We, no longer resistant to what is, are open to walking through those doors fearlessly.

Daniel Peralta describes this phenomenon in Louse L. Hay’s book, Gratitude: A Way of Life:

When you express gratitude, you raise the vibrations around you to a higher frequency. You create positive energy that emanates out from you and returns to you as wonderful experiences. You become magnetic. Good things and good people gravitate toward you because you’re such a joy and delight to be around.

An attitude of gratitude is naturally attractive. It has the power to turn challenges into possibilities, problems into solutions, and losses into gains. It shifts the energy. It expands our vision and allows us to see what might normally be invisible to someone with a limiting attitude.

So, taking this concept, adopting it, and making it “actionable” in the parlance of business leaders means that once that gratitude has seeped into your consciousness like rum in sponge cake, you are in the position of accepting your present circumstances.  More than accepting them, you embrace them.  You call them good.

Good leads to good.  So if you’re starting from a place that you deem to be undesirable, what good can come of it?   So by turning the switch from the attitude of scarcity to an attitude of plenitude, you are on a different trajectory.  You are on your way to exponential goodness.

“We should form the habit of blessing everything that we have. We know that we are setting the law of increase into operation.” — Charles Fillmore

So, let’s just lean into our gratitude.  Let’s not just thank God for the obvious.  Let’s thank God for everything that is now in our field of vision.  Everything we can see.  Everything we can embrace joyfully.  Everything we can accept gratefully.  Everything we can change purposefully.

Here’s a poem about the joy of gratitude that expresses how I’ve felt at times:

I Kissed It

I was ironing the other day
And I found myself
Kissing
My son’s white T-shirt
Size 8
It was a silly thing to do
I did it anyway

I was wondering what to cook the other day
And I found myself
Kissing
A small rutabaga
It was a silly thing to do
Kissing a rutabaga
(Purply-waxy little thing!)
I looked around sheepishly
To be sure I was alone
And I kissed it

Some things make sense to kiss
You kiss a spouse
You kiss a cheek
Or two, if you’re in France

But there are things
So beautiful
So wonderful
So awe-inspiring
(To my eyes anyway)

That the desire wells up
Irresistibly
And I…
Sshh…
Just have to sneak a peck!

A silly way (to be sure)
To simply say
Thank you

–C.M.Boyd  ©2012

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What’s Your New Year’s Prosperity Affirmation?

bart-simpson-chalkboard_www-txt2pic-comThis year I’m not doing New Year’s resolutions.  I’m doing New Year’s affirmations.

Remember when our teachers made us write things on the board 100 times in order to modify our behavior?  Well, maybe they had something in common with people like James Allen and Wayne Dyer.  And maybe they were really on to something.

I got an Amazon gift card from my son for Christmas.  So, I spent some time perusing the seemingly limitless choices, and then a light bulb when off.  Why not get one of Tom Butler-Bowdon‘s books?  Years ago I got his 50 Success Classics on MP3 and listened while I was driving.  I loved it.  It was just enough to get the gist of the classic works, already abstracted and synthesized.  And the bonus is his “In a Nutshell” where he gives you the key takeaway of the whole book.

So, getting his one book is like getting 50 books–and 50 great, time-tested books at that.

This time around, I chose 50 Prosperity Classics.   That choice may seem weird for someone like me, who writes about people like Peace Pilgrim and Charles Eisenstein and who basically feels that unlimited economic prosperity is going to ruin the environment.  But I looked at the list of authors in this book and they called out to me:  people like James Allen, Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Friedman, Paul Hawken, Ayn Rand, Dave Ramsey and Muhammad Yunus.  If that’s not a diverse group of people to put under the prosperity umbrella, I don’t know what is.

What struck me immediately as I started to move through some of the authors was a common thread–the idea that manifesting prosperity is a matter of affirming your prosperity today.  And to me, prosperity doesn’t mean dollars and cents necessarily.  I’m not looking to be a millionaire, or own a better car than the one I currently have (a 2007 Prius), and I certainly don’t want more rooms to clean.  To me, prosperity is about thriving in a holistic sense.  Having physical needs fulfilled is part of it, but really, to me, it’s about creating conditions for your mental, physical, and spiritual being to thrive so that God can work through you.  Prosperity can be the happy result of unclogged spiritual plumbing.  Spiritual clogs can be fear, doubt, lack of imagination, lack of belief, and resignation.

A while back, I touched on Wayne Dyer and his book Wishes Fulfilled.  As a result of reading his book, I spun off with an interest in Anita Moorjani and Neville Goddard.   Reading the 50 Prosperity Classics I was reminded of these inspiring writers who join with James Allen, and Catherine Ponder, and Napoleon Hill in advising us to BE what we want to be NOW.  Don’t say, “I’m going to be healthier.”  Say, “I AM healthy.”   Don’t say, “I’m going to be able to pay my bills.” Say “I AM able to pay my bills.”

Once of the basic tools most of these folks teach in order to manifest prosperity in life is the use of affirmations, like  Catherine Ponder’s “I am the radiant child of God, my mind, body and affairs now express his radiant perfection.” 

Some people may think that affirmations are New Age-y and cheesy, but the most pragmatic, successful people believe in the power of the imagination–people like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, who simply affirmed and asserted their unique visions.  They didn’t let “reality” stop them from manifesting who they were and what they were here on earth to do.  Reality is what we make of it.  It’s not a wall–it’s the window of our minds, thoughts, and hearts.

All these prosperity books are replete with stories of people who were able to manifest their realities.  I might think those stories were fiction, if I didn’t have a story of my own, but I do.    Someday I’ll tell it.

Leaning Into Purpose

We see every new year as a reset button for our lives

Happy New Year!

Last night, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve showed clips of New Year’s in different cities around the world.   I was struck by the similarities in our celebrations:  fireworks, revelry, resolution, hope.  Didn’t matter whether it was Buffalo, Berlin, Bangkok or Beijing, we were all at the same party.  It was amazing!

What does it mean?  It’s just a number.  It’s just another day.  Some of us will jump out of bed and dust off the treadmill in the basement.  Some will wake up nursing a hangover and decide to postpone the New Year until January 2.

Seems we all want a reset button.  A chance to begin again.  A promise that if 2011 was not fun, 2012 will be better.  To paraphrase that wonderful song in Les Mis, not “another day another destiny,” but “another year another destiny.”   Days come and go, and while some days can be lifechanging, we have seen all to often that you band 365 of them together, and chances are, your life can be quite different for reasons sometimes not in your control.

As for me, some years have been branded.  1974 was a great year.  I also look fondly on 1968, 1985, and 1998-1999 (that was a doubly good time).  2005 and 2008 I could have done without.

So we know we’re going to have good years and bad years, so we try to do what we can to control them with our resolutions.  I’m a one-goal-at-a-time person, because if I have more than one, neither gets done.  But I have a big dry erase board just outside my kitchen with my One Goal on it, and if it’s important enough–if I’ve been driven to it by sufficient pain or desire–I get it done.

Goals are fun.  I find that the good thing about sprawling a goal on a dry erase board that’s placed where you spend most of your time is it helps to keep it front and center.

I heard a great term from Kathy Freston, an author whose concentration is on healthy, conscious eating.  She adopts a more gradual approach to achieving goals and changing habits.   She does not recommend radical conversion.  She doesn’t prescribe a 21-Day To Change Your Life plan.   In encouraging her own dietary plan she uses the term “leaning into veganism.”

I like that.  The idea is to just keep the intention in front of you as you slowly empower yourself to make lasting changes.

So, whatever your New Year’s Resolution is, lean into it.  You have 365 days to work on it!  If you vow to hit the gym every day and you skip a day, you don’t have to throw the whole idea out.  Instead of writing on your dry erase board “Go To Gym Every Day!!!!” write, “by December 31, 2012, I’ll be eating 500 fewer calories a day and I’ll be exercising regularly three times a week.”

Lean into healthy purpose, or lean into loving purpose, or lean into financially sound purpose.  But just lean into it.  Over the days the mindfulness of that leaning will creep into your daily life and drive you to that place.

One more tip for reinforcing the mindfulness on a daily basis is to steal a practice from the Ignatians–the Daily Examen.   At the end of every day, just mentally sweep through the day and think about how you did with your goal.  The idea isn’t to beat yourself up–it’s just do a checkpoint with yourself to identify what worked and what didn’t, simply to make it easier to do better the next day.

In the book Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by the Heath Brothers, (a great book by the way), one of the first rules they talk about for finding ways to change is to look at success.  Don’t waste your time figuring out why you failed–look at why and how you (or others) succeeded.   You might do that with your Daily Examen.  Forget the donut you ate.  Think about how good you felt after taking the dog for a brisk walk.

Here’s a link to the Ignatian Daily Examen, but a lay version might look like this:

  • Just chill.  Depending upon your own spiritual practice, find a way to center yourself.  Count your breaths, recite a mantra, simply focus on the God within.  Try to shut off your mind from all that internal chatter.  I simply snuggle into bed, turn off the light, and when I’m as comfy as can be, I become aware of my breaths until my mind shuts down
  • Be glad.  Be grateful.  Say what you are grateful for–out loud or silently.  Like Pollyanna, play the Glad Game–try to find ways to be grateful for good stuff as well as the crummy stuff that happened.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as they waft past.  If you need help with this, there are tons of great books on mindfulness.  Transforming your feelings is like tearing down a wall that is keeping you from living the life you want, so don’t skip that step.
  • Think about one part of the day.  Pick a successful moment and think about how good you felt at that time.  Give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Visualize tomorrow.  Think about how rewarding it will be to repeat that tomorrow.  Visualize how tomorrow you will lean into your purpose.

iPhone: How do I use thee? Let me count the ways

This post is a little out of character for me–my posts are all much about very low-tech subjects.  But since this blog is about being astonished and telling about it, I feel compelled to talk about one of the astonishing accomplishments of a person who accomplished his mission of “putting a dent in the universe.”

I, like so many others, have spent time over the past few weeks examining the achievements of Steve Jobs since he died in October.  So many friends of mine talked of actually having cried when he died–it was almost like when John Lennon died.  But Steve Jobs was not a rock star in the literal sense of the word.  In fact he was in many ways what the Occupy protesters are protesting:  the head of a huge corporation that made billions, and who knew instinctively how to make money (one case in point, talking Steve Wozniak into NOT giving away his early technological achievements back when they were both part of the Homebrew Computer Club).

What so many of us actually grieved for was the loss of the person who had such passion for his creations that he changed the lives of each one of us, and that sounds hyperbolic, but it is the truth.  I, for one, found out about his passing on my iPhone, and then used my MacBook to read the news in greater depth.  In a weird way I felt that this very fact connected us as if we were some kind of technological distant cousins.  Uncle Steve was gone.

The inspiration for this post was this:  I was at a job just last week in which a quick snapshot was called for of the notes that were up on the dry-erase board our team was using, so I reached for my iPhone, saying to my client, it seems these days if you a phone, you don’t need anything else.

So, that got me thinking about how true that actually was, based on how I use my iPhone:

  1. 6:00am:  I wake up early to work on a report, using my iPhone’s alarm.  I’ve chosen a soft, soothing ring, like “Harp” because I’m home and if I oversleep, no big deal.  But if I’m on the road and need to get up for an early meeting, it might be “Piano Riff” or “Xylophone”–much ruder, but much less likely for me to sleep over it.  No more calling the hotel desks for a wake-up call.
  2. 7:30am: I’ve worked on my report for an hour and half and now Nessie is looking to go for a walk.  I wonder if I need a hat, so I check the weather app–43 degrees. Iffy.  I grab the hat.
  3. 7:45am:  While I’m on the walk I see a turtle cross the path by the creek, so I take a picture with the camera, upload it to Facebook.  The rest of the time I listen to my iPod:  some music, and a daily Podcast by pray-as-you-go.org.
  4. 7:50am:  Done with the walk, so I check my calendar to see what meetings I have.
  5. 7:55am:  I read the daily Liturgy of the Hours readings on my Universalis app
  6. 8:15am:  I catch up on my finances.  I check in with Mint and input transactions from the day before to my YouNeedABudget app.  Mint reminds me I have a bill to pay today.
  7. 8:45am:  After breakfast and 20 minutes of yoga I log my meal and excercise on my MyFitnessPal app.I really want to get that report done, so I use my TaskTimer app, which is like a stopwatch, which is great for me because I tend to get distracted very easily.  But when I use the TaskTimer, I know I’ve pledged myself to 45 minutes of straight work.  Amazing what you can get done in 45 minutes of concentrated work.
  8. 11:30am:  At lunchtime I’m meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant I haven’t used before, so I can either use my map app, which came with the iPhone, or I can use the more GPS-like AT&T Navigator.  In this case, because I have to drive and there seem to be a lot of turns, I go with the AT&T Navigator.  On the way, I listen to my iPod.
  9. 12:05pm My friend is a little late, so I read some of my book on my Kindle app.  Surprisingly, it reads very well, considering the screen is so small.  I sync it with my Kindle purchases, and the bookmarks always are in sync.   Or I could play a little Tetris.
  10. 12:10pm Also while I’m waiting, I check my blog stats on my WordPress app.
  11. 12:30pm  At lunch my friend hasn’t seen my kids in a while, so I show her the photos on my phone.  We also talk about the hardships of traveling, so I pull up a really funny comic monologue on travel by comedian Brian Regan on YouTube.
  12. 1:10pm  After lunch, I check my email and voice mail in the car parking lot, and return a couple of urgent emails.  I can tell which ones to ignore–the ones that aren’t identified through my contacts.
  13. 2:00-5:00pm  The rest of the afternoon I spend at my computer doing assorted tasks, taking all my business calls on my iPhone.  Hardly ever use the landline.
  14. 5:30pm  I see a QR code for a magazine article I’m interested in, so I use the code scanner I’ve downloaded and get the article and a coupon to use on a shopping trip.  I save the article to Evernote.
  15. 6:00pm  On the dog’s evening walk, I check out movies on my Redbox app and reserve one for the evening.
  16. 7:00pm  After dinner, we check in with my son, using FaceTime.  (I actually hate FaceTime because I’ve seen myself on the reverse camera feature and it’s a pretty scary sight!  If they could only create an app with a gauze feature to soften those wrinkles).
  17. 10:00pm  And before bed, I want to say a rosary, but I can never remember those darned mysteries, so I pray using my Rosary app.  If only my grammar school principal, Sister Ellen Marie, could see me now!

So there it is:  17 ways to use the iPhone.  I could have added more, but that would have taken me to a different day, and I didn’t want to exaggerate the number of applications my iPhone has in a typical day.

I love it.   A clock, an alarm, a camera, an outdoor thermometer, a stopwatch, a navigator, a music player, a mail server, a breviary/rosary, an address book, a concierge, a filing cabinet, a TV, a movie screen, a motivational tool, a shopping assistant, a financial manager, AND, did I forget to mention, a full-featured telephone:  All this in one elegant pocket-sized package.

And that’s just the applications used in my tiny corner of the world.  Amazing.

How do you use the iPhone in YOUR world?

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

~ “Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver ~

Today is a glorious day. So, this will be a boring post, nothing much to say, nothing much to learn. The learning is right here, and the saying is being done by the birds with their own special dialects: some whistling, some chirping, some calling, some lilting. Shadows cast by a rising sun are crisp and bold, and it’s cool for a summer morning.

Can't beat this office space--computer, coffee, and a windowless world!

This poem by Mary Oliver reminds me that waking up late on a day like this is like leaving money on the table. Lately, I’ve been taking my computer outside with my coffee and feeling like I have the best “office” in the world. Some boast of their corner office with views. How much is the rent for a space like that in New York, I wonder? But can it be any better than my “office”? No, you can have your corner office, I’ll take my windowless one with my view of the potted plants and the birdbath, and Nessie at my side.

Many “doers” and self-help gurus tout the benefits of waking early from a productivity standpoint. Leo Babauta, of zenhabits speaks to it in his blog entry: 10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How I Do it. Ben Franklin claims early to bed and early to rise will make us healthy, wealthy, and wise.

From a spiritual standpoint, I think rising early makes you feel part of the natural order of things. Sometimes when Nessie gets me out of bed for a walk as dawn breaks, I feel like I’m in the natural equivalent of “rush hour”–when dawn’s first light hits, you start hearing the bird’s morning chatter, the squirrels have already started staking out the goods underneath the trees, and the day is on the move!

This daily transition from sleep to wake, silence to action, inner world to outer world is all part of the ebb and flow of a harmonious life, and another reason waking early helps ground me–sets me up firmly on the balance beam we traverse during our waking hours.

A great self-help guide in walking this beam are the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. I am a novice in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, but I do know that it’s a very practical spirituality. I’ve been reading about it from authors such as Margaret Silf, Larry Warner, James Martin, and from a really great website, ignatianspirituality.com.

What I’ve learned so far is, in a nutshell, is that Ignatian spirituality is a discipline that is both contemplative and very active–a discipline you can wake to and go to work with. It’s a program of reflection, meditation, self-examination, and determining God’s will for us, and how to take the inner silence that this discernment requires and go out into the world doing your job, whatever that might be. It helps me store up the first cold press of the day, and use it as a generator for the active life. The result: the ability to find God in all things–the mundane and the chaotic, the kind as well as the “miserable and crotchety.”

Nessie in a morning meditative state

Today is the first day of a 31-day “IgnatiusFest” sponsored by Ignatian Spirituality.com. Here is the link to a cool calendar–each day has a new topic. Today’s is “What Is Ignatian Spirituality?” Tomorrow’s is “Why Do We Pray?” I encourage you to check it out. When I first started exploring this spiritual program (which the AA 12-steps were supposedly loosely based on), it seemed like it would be reserved for spiritual heavyweights, but this 31-day IgnatiusFest is a great way to learn about the spiritual exercises, break them down, and see how you might use them as part of your own spiritual journey.

Good morning.


Too many goals: Currency blowing in the wind

Well, well, well.  In spite of the fact that at the start of Lent I anticipated ramping up my blog entries, I actually wound up in freeze mode, and had the longest dry spell since I’ve started blogging.

What happened?   I think the answer actually lies something Dale Carnegie said about goal-setting:  While it is true that most people don’t succeed because they don’t have clearly defined goals, some people fail to make progress because they have too many.   So my analysis of this year’s Lenten goals:  I simply bit off more than I could chew and lacked the focus to follow through on any of them.

An analogy can be found in something that happened to me yesterday.  I went to CVS to go to the ATM machine.  I remembered I needed a small item, which was on sale for only 1.87.  So, I used one of the newly-ejected $20 bills from the ATM machine to pay, which left me with a ten dollar bill, a five, and three singles.

On my way out the door, I had the bag, a receipt, and my change.  As I was trying to put my change away, it slipped out of my hand, and all of a sudden, I saw the five bills fluttering in the wind and scuttering across the parking lot.  I lunged for the closest bill, which happened to be single.  Then it occurred to me–If some of these bills are going to be blowing away beyond my reach, I’d be better off just pursuing the ten dollar bill.  If the others blow away, it won’t be as great a loss.

As it turned out, I was able to retrieve all five bills.  But the moral of the story is, don’t go chasing down five things, when you’re best off just nailing the one that has the most value.  And that’s what I didn’t do during Lent.   Instead, I ran around chasing a bunch of goals and never succeeded in grabbing onto what was most important.

I’m kind of bummed that I lost that opportunity during Lent, because there is really something so exhilarating and empowering about setting a good worthwhile goal.    My favorite goal-setting experiences:

  • I had a clue that my employer, a large multinational corporation, was going to let me go during a series of lay-offs.  I happened to be pregnant.  Getting laid off at that point would have cut me off from the maternity leave pay that I had coming to me.  When I was conveying my fears about this to my mother, she said, “Well, what are you going to do?  You’ve never been much of a fighter.”  That was all she had to say to turn on the tiger inside me.  As a result, I successfully fought the impending lay-off and won my maternity leave.
  • When I earned a really valuable entry-level spot, jumping from a dead-end job, I was elated with the prospects of a brighter career, so I set a monetary goal that I thought was really aggressive.   I was making $42k at the first rung of that ladder, so I set a goal to double my income in 5 years.  I wound up quadrupling it in that amount of time.
  • Back around the time I graduated from college, my Colombian best friend invited me down to South America.   I had spent my high school years learning French.  So I decided to learn Spanish, at least as much as I could before I went to South America nine months later.  So, I got a self-study book, and at 3pm every day, I did one chapter.  No more, no less.  I continuously built upon lesson after lesson, winding up with a fairly passable traveler’s fluency in Spanish.

So, those three examples point to three elements of successful goal setting:

  1. Have passion for your goal.  As Anthony Robbins says in Awaken the Giant Within, in order to motivate yourself to achieve any goal, you have to stir up the power of your internal pain/pleasure drivers.  How you respond to those drivers will dictate your ability to get motivated and stay motivated.  In my mind, my mother unwittingly dared me, and touch a hot button–she in effect told me I’m a passive person, and I just had to prove her wrong.
  2. Have a measurable goal. Numbers are wonderful goal-setting aids.  Where some goals can be elusively rhetorical, numbers give you instant focus.   How many pounds do you want to lose?  In what amount of time?  How much money do you want to make?   Or you can use dates as goals:  “I want to get my MBA by the time I’m 31.”   Just imagine the banner across the finish line.  It can only say so much.  What does your banner say?
  3. Be consistent and persistent. You can’t exercise sporadically.  You can’t be really focused on eliminating debt on some days-and out at the malls on others.    It has to be something you think about every day.   Hey, you can stop thinking about your goal when you achieve it.  This isn’t a life sentence.  But the more you are committed to your goal on a daily basis, the faster you’re going to cross that finish line.

I have one more really important lesson about goal-setting.  And that is, goals are more likely to be met if they are grounded in a mindset of abundance, rather than a mindset of lack. For instance, how demotivating is it to be obsessed with what you don’t have while you’re trying to achieve what you want to have.  Turn your thoughts over from a mindset of lack into a mindset of abundance. If you have financial goals, don’t obsess over the debt you have.  Think instead about the money you do have, the income you can project, the natural ability you have to earn more money.  This is the horse you want to ride into battle.

If you have diet or exercise goals, what good is it to focus on how much weight you have to lose?  Or how clumsy you look in the pilates class compared with all the other more experienced exercisers?  Instead think about how beautiful you are now.  Stand up straight and decide to honor yourself by giving your bodily temple the care it deserves.  Rather than harboring thoughts like “I’m ugly now, but in the future I’ll be beautiful,”  realize the future now.  Believe you are beautiful  now.  Be prosperous in your mind now.  Your mental approach to a worthwhile goal isn’t to take you from lack to plenty.  It’s to simply manifest what is already there, hidden inside, ready to bloom, ready for you to simply snatch up as it surfs the wind.

Up the Down Staircase to Happiness

updownThere was a popular book by Bel Kaufman in the 60s, followed by the movie with Sandy Dennis, called Up the Down Staircase–about a new, struggling teacher who made the mistake of climbing the staircase in the school that was used for “down” traffic in order to go up.  She found herself, struggling, pushing against the tide of students pressing down on her as she fought her way to the top.

It was a great metaphor for a self-imposed struggle to getting somewhere, unaware that you are headed in the wrong direction–persisting in the struggle instead of simply finding the right path.   Instead of “going with the flow” you fight it and wind up further from your destination.

There is an article in Time Magazine this week called “Yes I Suck:  The Power of Negative Thinking,” and it highlights a study just published in the journal Psychological Science which says trying to get people to think more positively can actually have the opposite effect: it can simply highlight how unhappy they are.

The study’s authors, Joanne Wood and John Lee of the University of Waterloo and Elaine Perunovic of the University of New Brunswick, begin with a common-sense proposition: when people hear something they don’t believe, they are not only often skeptical but adhere even more strongly to their original position…

And so we constantly argue with ourselves. Many of us are reluctant to revise our self-judgment, especially for the better. In 1994, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper showing that when people get feedback that they believe is overly positive, they actually feel worse, not better. If you try to tell your dim friend that he has the potential of an Einstein, he won’t think he’s any smarter; he will probably just disbelieve your contradictory theory, hew more closely to his own self-assessment and, in the end, feel even dumber. In one fascinating 1990s experiment demonstrating this effect — called cognitive dissonance in official terms — a team including psychologist Joel Cooper of Princeton asked participants to write hard-hearted essays opposing funding for the disabled. When these participants were later told they were compassionate, they felt even worse about what they had written.
Wood, Lee and Perunovic conclude that unfavorable thoughts about ourselves intrude very easily, especially among those of us with low self-esteem — so easily and so persistently that even when a positive alternative is presented, it just underlines how awful we believe we are.
The paper provides support for newer forms of psychotherapy that urge people to accept their negative thoughts and feelings rather than try to reject and fight them. In the fighting, we not only often fail but can also make things worse. Mindfulness and meditation techniques, in contrast, can teach people to put their shortcomings into a larger, more realistic perspective. Call it the power of negative thinking.

When it comes to seeking happiness, steering your focus on finding happiness or self-worth to the exclusion of activities that will actually make you happier or feel better about yourself is a case of going up the down staircase.   Forcing the issue by constantly affirming to yourself, like Stuart Smalley, that “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!” may actually sentence you to never-ending struggle to get to the top of the happiness staircase.

Wise people have told us, in many different ways, that the minute we stop focusing on ourselves, the struggles stop and the door to happiness appears.  All the theories about ego-consciousness points to this (read Eckhart Tolle).   Tolstoy told us this in the parable of the Emporer’s Three Questions.  All the wisdom of the saints tells us this.  That famous peace prayer attributed to St. Francis tells us that in order to get, we don’t strive to get, we give.   In finding love, we don’t demand it, we simply perform acts of love towards others.   We don’t beg others to understand us, we listen to them and we seek to understand them.

In one of my favorite Dick and Jane stories from my grammar school reader, a dad gives his son and his daughter their own gardens, and tells them it is theirs to tend.  Each of them starts with the same number of seeds, and soon both gardens are blooming.  The boy starts giving his flowers away–to the elderly neighbor next door, to his teacher, to a sick friend.  The girl refuses to cut off her beautiful blooms, preferring to keep the beauty to herself.

If you are a gardener, you can guess the end of the story–the boy’s garden flourished because when you cut one bloom, you get two back.  On the other hand, within a few weeks, the girl’s garden had spent its blooms and sat there, lifeless and sparse.

I subscribe to Self-improvement ebooks, and they recently sent me an article on “The Secret of Abounding Happiness.”  The recipe, in short:

As you rise above the sorded self; as you break, one after another, the chains that bind you, you will realize the joy of giving, as distinguished from the misery of grasping–giving of your substance; giving of your intellect; giving of the love and light that are growing within you.  You will then understand that it is indeed ‘more blessed to give than to receive.’

Lose yourself in the welfare of others; forget yourself in all that you do; this is the secret of abounding happiness.”

So instead of running to your therapist, run to your local food bank and volunteer.  Instead of buying stuff you don’t need to make you happy, give away stuff you don’t need.  Instead of looking down into the depths of your own unhappiness, get off that DOWN staircase, find the UP one and ascend with ease.

The First, Best Habit for Changing your Life

Snapshot 2009-06-23 14-29-36We were watching “Jeopardy” the other night, as we do frequently.  I can’t remember the category, but the the answer was “‘I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my ___.'”  The buzzer rang and the middle guy said, “Ship!”  Alex said, “Nooo” while I was thinking to myself, “Oh, what is it? What is it–I KNOW that!”  

“Soul” Alex said after time was up.  ‘I am the master of my SOUL.'”   

In response, my mother in law stuck her fingers in among the old papers she was just then sorting through.   She pulled out a yellowed clipping of the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gait,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. 

One of the most life-changing books I ever read–actually one of the most life-changing chapters I ever read was from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  This is not a find here–millions of people have read this best seller, first published in 1989.  I didn’t get around to reading it until the 90s.  But the idea that was a mountain of a Eureka for me was explained in Part Two:  Private Victory–Habit 1:  Be Proactive.

I have to take issue with the title, however.  It’s not that “Be Proactive” is bad advice.  But I think of proactivity as being a behavior.  It’s a time management tool.  Look ahead, be organized, anticipate, do it now.  

But the gem in that chapter is really more about shifting your attitude to accepting total responsibility for what you do, and what you can do, no matter what your circumstance.  This is also the message of Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankl, the famous neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, observed people in the German concentration camps.  Those who tended to survive had found a way to rise above horrific circumstances simply by changing their attitudes, and adjusting what Covey calls the Circle of Influence, no matter that the circle of their influence might only be the circumference of their mind.  

If you are not familiar with this chapter, it won’t do it justice to try to condense it into a 800-word blog entry, so I’m simply going to provide a teaser, an image to carry forward and think about, and a personal story.  

Very often we preoccupy ourselves with all the things that we are concerned with.  Some we cannot do anything about, but for others, you can wield some measure of influence.  It may not be much.  Sometimes all we can do at that moment is change the way we look at it, but that’s enough.   Instead of feeling caged by what you can’t control, you can break out of the victim’s prison by looking at those things that you can change.  It’s such an empowering concept!  You are free.  You are free to make choices that will make your circle of concern smaller and your circle of influence larger.  And once you take on that attitude, your internal power and your external influence grows and grows.

When I read that chapter, I was earning very little money in a job I hated.  I was biding my time.  I was “too good” for that job.  My “lucky break” hadn’t come along yet.  So I plodded along, feeling boxed in and resentful that I should be wasting my precious life in this dead-end, nothing job making barely enough to make ends meet.

When I allowed the message of Covey’s Circle of Influence to penetrate my foolish brain, a miracle happened.  I said to myself, “Well, I don’t have the job I want right now.  So I might as well do the best I can with the job I’ve got.”   I injected energy and purpose into my tasks.  I became service-oriented to my internal clients at work.  I made it my goal to make sure I did whatever I could to perform well so that my colleagues and my company would benefit from my hard work.  

In the process, I found things about the job I really liked.  I found ways to expand that part of my job and innovate.  Ultimately, I asked the owner of the company for a promotion, and because I had created a sense of trust, she gave it to me.  

Ten years later, I finally have my dream job.  But I didn’t really go anywhere!  I continued to work in the area in which I never imagined I could find fulfillment.  Over time I grew and grew, and finally left the company to start my own business in that field.  My time is my own, I make a very comfortable living. I have terrific quality of life, working reasonable hours, having flexibility to spend time with family or just take off and spend an hour at Barnes & Noble.   I feel very blessed.  If I sat around waiting for the dream job, it never would have come.  

“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” We, as human beings, are so fortunate to have power and freedom and creativity and imagination to make our lives whatever we want them to be.  It doesn’t matter if we can’t walk, or see, or  hear.We don’t have to feel walled in.  That’s OUR choice.  Unfortunately sometimes we resign ourselves the walls in front of us, not realizing that it’s just a few short steps to the secret garden on the other side.

The Power of Thought Authors

images-2In keeping with my intention to write about my favorite self-help authors, I will start with the overall idea that was so profoundly suggested in James Allen’s book title, As a Man Thinketh.

The idea that you can think up something and shoot it out to the Universe and have your wildest dreams realized was not the sole property of Rhonda Byrne, author of  The Secret. The well-known name for the phenomenon she illustrated in her book is the Law of Attraction, and that idea goes back a long time–some would say as far back as the Old Testament.

I couldn’t even begin to list all the influential authors and thinkers who have written about this basic principle, but I’d love to know why we don’t practice more of it.  

One of the things that has always put me off some Law of Attraction books is that they sometimes are packaged as a Genie in a Bottle, or as Dorothy’s ruby slippers.   All you have to do is click your heels three times and you get anything you wish for–a veritable Christmas morning of wealth, health and happiness.   Some evangelical Christian preachers exhort their congregations to open up their arms, or their purses, and wealth and prosperity will be theirs, like manna in the desert.  As my friend Dolores used to say, “Ahhhhh don’t think so.”

I can’t help but think that this is a abuse of power.  Do we have the power?  Yes, I believe we do.  I believe I’ve experienced it myself, when I went from being a timid sheep of a worker in the typing pool to Vice President of a major market research company, and ultimately to owner of my own company.   I went from an “I can’t” kind of gal to a “I can” one, and with the help of some of the authors I will present in this blog, those two words literally changed my life.

So, do I believe in the power of thought, or the Law of Attraction?  Undoubtedly.  “What man can believe, he can achieve.”  But let’s not use it the same way the fisherwoman used the magic fish in the fable–simply ordering good fortune without  gratitude or purpose.  Let’s use it to open up a channel to hear God within and trust that the divine intention will power the Law of Attraction to the benefit of the Universe and its inhabitants.   

So, here are three of my favorite Law of Attraction books, and I’m not going to include the Secret because it’s gotten its fair share of deserved notoreity.  I’d like to highlight some oldies but goodies:

booksJames Allen:  As a Man Thinketh:  Free eDowloads are available, or there are all kinds of printings of it.  This is a classic, and is beautiful in its simplicity and brevity.    Amazon’s Editor’s Review says,

“In As a Man Thinketh, James Allen reveals how our thoughts determine reality. Whether or not we are conscious of it, our underlying beliefs shape our character, our health and appearance, our circumstances, and our destinies. Allen shows how we can master our thoughts to create the life we want, lest we drift through life unconscious of the inner forces that keep us mired in failure and frustration.”

James Allen quote:  “For true success ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now?”

Charles F. Haanel’s The Master Key System:   I have to be honest.  I just recently downloaded this classic.  You can open it immediately with this link, thanks to The Secret website.  But I’ve read all the classics, and I’ve constantly read references to the Master Key System.  It was written way back in 1912, but it is far from irrelevant.  I read recently that Bill Gates read it in college and that’s when he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft.   

Charles F. Haanel quote:  “And as the most powerful forces of Nature are the invisible forces, so we find that the most powerful forces of man are his invisible forces, his spiritual force.”

books-1Catherine Ponder, The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity.  Catherine wrote prolifically about the “Laws” of all good things:  health, prosperity, goodwill.   I like her books, and I read them, but I have to admit that her books smack a little too close to the Genie in the Bottle approach.  She has scads of stories of people whose lives turned around by following her “laws,” and that may be so, but her sales pitch is a little strong–probably because she wrote for people just emerging from the Great Depression.  However, I find the ideas themselves good reinforcement–she promotes visualization, prayer, self-confidence, and hard work and persistence.   Plus, I am happy to recommend a good female self-help author.

Catherine Ponder quote:  “The forgiving state of mind is a magnetic power for attracting good.” 

These authors built the foundation for Rhonda Byrne and Wayne Dyer and all the other more recent notable Law of Attraction authors.  The language is a little different from what we’re used to–they were a far cry from the language-barren world of Twitter!  But if you can get past that, they have the power to help you change your thinking–and thus, your life.

Self-Help on Breaking the Self-Help Addiction

NOTE:  I’m going to start some entries on some of my favorite self-help authors, so I’m kicking it off with this essay I wrote in 1996.   Because it was written over 10 years ago, some of the references to specific authors are a bit outdated, but you’ll get the point.

Every dummy needs a "Dummies" sometimes

Every dummy needs a "Dummies" sometime

In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was the only self-help book around, for at least a few thousand years, anyway.

But 20th Century Americans, in the spirit of free enterprise, have noticed that if the Bible could consistently break all sorts of best-selling records, just maybe they could profit by copying the winning formula of motivation and inspiration, with a few good proverbs thrown in.

And thus begat the mega-trend of self-help which shows no sign of slowing down.  As for me, I may just be at my saturation point.

I’ve ridden out all the advice from doctors on diets ranging from grapefruit to zero fat and from psychologists telling me how to get uncodependent and feel O.K. about myself.  Robin Norwood told me I love too much; Leo Buscaglia told me I don’t love enough.  John Bradford told me that 99% of all families aren’t working; Dr. Dobson told me how to be part of the 1% that is.  I’ve been colored beautiful and have put first things first in my life.

And so, having reaped the benefits of all this wisdom, I must be the most perfect person alive.  But I’m not.  Millions of self-help addicts like me must be equally disillusioned, because now the publishers have come out with advice that won’t be over the heads of its readers–advice in a series of books for “dummies” like me.  Personal Finance for Dummies. Time Management for Dummies.  Even Sex for Dummies.  In spite of all the reading I’ve done on self-esteem, I’m still heading for the books written for dummies.  Perhaps I could rectify this by reading a book called Self-Esteem for Dummies.

My husband thinks my obsession with self-help books is ridiculous.  He constantly tells me, “Just get off your _ _ _ and DO all this stuff you’re reading about.”  He does have a point.  Once I bought a book on decluttering which I never read because it got lost among the clutter under my bed.  It is somewhat ironic that in order to read the book Do It Now you have to stop doing “it.”  There should be only one chapter in any self-help book on procrastination:  “Chapter One:  what are you doing lying around reading this book?  Get off your lazy butt and get busy!  Now!”

So, instead of buying the next level of books for the improvement-impaired, I’m going to quit the self-help thing altogether.  Here’s my advice for others addicted to words of advice:

  1. Say this affirmation daily:  “My parents taught me just as much, if not more, as M. Scott Peck ever could.”  My life has never been significantly impacted by any single self-help book.  Did Martin Luther King need motivation from Normal Vincent Peale to lead his March on Washington?  Did Kennedy rely on Dale Carnegie to boost his charisma?
  2. Realize that in this age of recycling, the one thing that gets recycled the most is advice.  An article on improving your love life by any other name is still the same old stuff on improving your love life.
  3. In a moment of weakness, when you are compelled to run to Barnes and Noble for the latest opportunity to become a perfect human, go back to the beginning.  Read your Bible, or your Koran, Torah, or just your own gut.  Read classics, where self-help abounds.  After all, Shakespeare never said “To thine Wayne Dyer be true.”  It’s to thine own self he said to be true to, whether you’re a man from Mars, or a woman from Venus, or just a typical self-doubting earthling.