Making Confidence Authentic and Accessible

Confidence, and especially self-confidence, is something many of my friends and coaching clients consider more a mystery than a characteristic they draw on easily in their lives. To develop and maintain a strong, authentic confidence, the missing element is self-generated confidence.

Confidence is defined as a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers; a visceral belief that one will act well; a relation of trust or intimacy. This last aspect is easily overlooked and really important. For self-generated confidence, you must be your own best friend by trusting your inner voice and forgiving yourself when life takes your breath away.

Authentic, fullhearted confidence is the opposite of perfectionism or certainty.

What does self-generated confidence look like in action? I worked recently with a client who had a negative work incident and requested assistance to increase his confidence, which had been damaged. There were several steps we discussed that are core to cultivating a more resilient confidence that bends but does not break under duress. Self-generated confidence emerged as the missing element in his life, especially because externally generated confidence was out of his sphere of influence.

  1. Notice and document negative thoughts and their origins.

My client was able to tag some really juicy thoughts like: A thousand people standing behind me can do this job. If I was strong enough I wouldn’t need help. We are taught and we catch confidence-eroding thoughts from our family, our community, and society that become unconsciously embedded in our minds and hearts.

  1. Pay particular attention to how negative thoughts are tied to one’s societal power and a system of oppression.

In the case of my client, he was the only person of color on the management team in a company that was doing poorly. In letting him go, the CEO used as an excuse that my client hadn’t solved a number of problems that were very damaging to the company, even though my client had no authority or responsibility in the relevant areas. He had to debunk a seemingly positive, but really negative, disempowering thought: ‘If I was truly great they wouldn’t have been able to let me go.’  I gently pointed out that he was on the Titanic and no matter how well he had performed at his company, he was not going to get a seat on the lifeboat. He had neither the right skin color or positional power.

When understanding how internalized oppression works many years ago, I saw how I had bought into negative thoughts I received as a woman of color.  The most important lesson I learned was to identify these thoughts, many of which started with the words: “I should have…” That put an expectation on myself to know and anticipate white supremacy culture as well as live by it characteristics of ‘perfectionism’ and ‘one right way’.

  1. Develop antidote to negative thoughts.

The critical voice has to be quelled by strengthening your nurturing, wise voice. I always have my clients develop a vision of what they will be feeling, thinking, and doing that is different than in the present moment. It is an antidote exercise to cultivate self-generated confidence. It is not a fake, broad ‘you can do this’ affirmation. I encourage specificity and only what my clients can influence – themselves.

My client knew this nurturing voice as he used it with his son. This made it easier to start using this voice with himself. He also got to consciously ponder what attitudes he inherited from his family that he wanted to discard and which ones he wanted to pass on to his son. Breaking our patterns allows us to positively influence those we love.

In speaking with my client, I become conscious of how often I use my inner nurturing voice from years of practice. When I missed an overhead at tennis practice, I mentally noticed the two things I did right BEFORE thinking about how to correct what I did wrong. I reminded myself to hit the ball in front of me rather than saying what I most often hear from the women around me: I can’t believe I did that or how could I…fill in the blank. Given the strength and reinforcement of the critical voice around me, I self-correct constantly. My client told me recently how important it was to be rigorous for the effects to root. He now makes time every day for a self-counseling session where he uses his nurturing voice.

  1. Accept positive feedback from others when genuine.

‘Thank you’ is enough when given compliments. If it is genuine, take it in completely. Notice your patterns of deflecting or feeling you need to say something positive back. These behaviors are steeped in a dominant critical voice and in wanting to be liked. Your nurturing voice will also let you know when the praise is coming from someone else’s lack of confidence. ‘Thank you’ is even more appropriate then, rather than engaging in an inauthentic exchange of platitudes.

  1. Repeat steps over and over.

Self-generated confidence is a practice with valuable repercussions.  Apart from giving you the capacity to be in charge of your confidence level, it performs another core task. It allows you to weigh external evaluation against data from your own assessment. After any speech, presentation, or performance, I evaluate myself so that any other feedback is weighted based on my inner wise self. I focus on what I did well, especially given any challenging circumstances, and note 1-2 things I would do differently. I practice pride dipped in a warm coating of humility and joy.

Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher, says: “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval.”

Self-generated confidence is an essential, often neglected aspect of overall confidence worth cultivating. By increasing your ability to give generously and honestly to yourself and accept positive regard, you can then give it authentically to others. Wellness is contagious and is a gift that never goes out of style.

The Secret of Discipline

“So let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them.  We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret of discipline.”  Rubem Alves, Brazilian theologian

When you hear the word discipline, what do you think of? It often has a negative connotation due to being connected to punishment. The origin is indeed related to both punishment and suffering AND also to teaching, learning, and knowledge.  This is the definition I use, along with mental self-control to direct or change behavior. It can also be a particular field of activity, as in the discipline of writing, public speaking, or leadership.

I was not big on discipline growing up, believing that constant activity was the key to achievement. Excellence was not a word that was connected to me, even though both my parents were quite detail-oriented and disciplined in many areas of their lives. Most of my teachers did not set a high standard or pay attention to what I could accomplish. My parents didn’t understand the American school system yet still had clear goals for me that included a college degree, a good job with benefits, and a husband with children.

Discipline is sometimes inherent in an individual’s personality and sometimes, like in my case, it was initially an agonizing practice. Something interested me and I stuck with it until I reached a certain level of competency. Without being pushed by most teachers or coaches to be the best I could be, I bounced to another sport or activity. While I was competitive, I did not yet have the mindset to decide a goal, assess the situation, devise a plan, and then evaluate the results. In hindsight, some of the low expectations were based on my gender and race. I had few role models or even a visual of someone like me excelling. I now see that my parents could have been that for me, but they were not held up as role models by my US education and media. They lived by the love they did not see until I was much older and realized all they had done to achieve a comfortable life in this country as immigrants.

There is a lot of talk about the lack of discipline in black and brown communities. Talk of how we are lazy, unmotivated, and don’t believe in education. As Chelsea Batista said when accepted to 11 medical schools: “Several naysayers have attributed my successes to affirmative action, as opposed to discipline and hard work. At some points, I had to remind myself that I earned these accomplishments. That I worked just as hard as those around me and that I had to break through a prominent glass ceiling to get here. I had to remind myself that I was not chosen because I am a Hispanic woman who fulfills the requirements. I was chosen because as a Hispanic woman, I had to struggle through more obstacles and resistance than the typical medical school applicant and I still managed to excel.”

As I said earlier, when recounting my experience, a key element to developing a strong discipline practice is role models. An article about Lieutenant Uhuru from Star Trek when she turned eighty-two stated: The Star Trek character played by Nichelle Nichols broke racial barriers on TV, and when she thought of quitting the series at one point, none other than Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged her to stay on! “He said I had the first non-stereotypical role, I had a role with honor, dignity and intelligence. He said, ‘You simply cannot abdicate, this is an important role. This is why we are marching. We never thought we’d see this on TV.'”

The first time I used all my previous discipline skills consciously was as a mother at the age of thirty-nine. Before that, but I was too often driven by the end rather than paying attention to the means I used to reach the end. Discipline is all about the means. In fact, when I knew we were having twins, I began making lists, the first conscious discipline tool I used other than a watch and alarms. Without checking off my lists, trips would have ended in tears and sad memories. Another core discipline I began with my children was living a fully bilingual life. I truly accepted that repetition and boredom are necessary elements in achieving life goals, sustaining my spiritual practice, and in raising children. Discipline forces me to transform my world, one small change at a time, planting dates that will not flourish for many years.

Discipline is inherently based in self-love. Discipline must first and foremost be directed at achieving your own aspirations and goals. Only by doing this can we truly give to others because we have the patience and fortitude to know that our present actions are based in love for what we may never see.

First and Last Hour of Your Day
To assess and deepen your own practice, I suggest you start with the first and last hour of your day. These are the most important two hours to create a fruitful discipline practice. Make a list of what you are currently doing in these two hours. Rather than judging yourself, look at each activity and ask yourself: When did I start doing this and why? Do these activities bring ease or do they encourage scattered energy and focus? Then list and commit to activities that are absolutely essential and also note down optional choices. Order them in a natural progression. One of my first hour activities is lighting incense and dedicating the merit of my day to someone. It helps me step out of ego and remember we are all connected. One of my last hour activities is noting 3 things for which I am grateful in my day and why.

Hal Elrod, a bestselling author of a series of books called The Miracle Morning, offers a 6 minute practice if time is of the essence that is a good framework to consider.
1 minute each of:
Silence to calm the mind and breathe, Affirmations to increase internal motivation, Visualization of goals and the day going well, Scribing gratitudes and results for the day, Reading something inspirational, and finally, Exercise to get the heart rate up. While every part of your day should be focused on your important values and goals, the first and last hours form the cornerstone of discipline.

To add even more value and meaning to your lives, integrate the three core elements of discipline:

Notice and appreciate how your day, week, and life blossom with the secret of discipline – living by the love of what we will never see — knowing our lives have benefited by what was planted by those who came before us. Knowing others will benefit from what we plant each day with discipline. #coaching #fullhearted #discipline #self-love

Finding Your Breath

What is breath to you?

I have the unwelcome opportunity, as you probably do, to ponder this often. One day in particular, I woke up with a clear plan for my day. I drove to my yoga studio. After parking my car, I realized I had forgotten my yoga mat and had a moment of irritation that I would have to pay for a loaner mat because I had not been mindful enough to bring mine. As I locked the car door, a woman said: “Do you know you have a flat tire?”

“I didn’t. Thank you.”

I did not feel grateful. With a big sigh, I unlocked the door and sat back down. I looked up the weird warning that had started flashing that morning and sure enough, it meant a problem with tire pressure. I felt myself sinking into the frustration of missing my class and now having to go to the rental agency to get another car. Closing my eyes to re-center, I recalled an email I had received the day before from a friend asking for prayers for a mother whose daughter had been missing for five days. Fortunately, she followed up with an email a few hours later saying the daughter was found and safe.

Getting Assistance
Pulling out my phone, I called my VISA, who transferred me to their emergency road service number. Another moment of annoyance rose when they said there was a $60 charge to change the tire. I debated changing the tire myself, but quickly talked myself into the benefit of getting assistance. An edge of irritation invaded my voice as I answered the woman’s questions. Do any of you ever do that to customer service people? You know it is not their fault but they are the ones saying what you don’t want to hear. I pulled away from that edge in my voice until it was lower and quieter, reminding myself I was safe and didn’t have a daughter that was missing.

The tow man arrived, kneeled down, and inspected the flat tire. “That is a really big nail!” he said, pointing to the large head in the tire. He raised the car and used his high powered tool to unscrew the lug nuts. “These are on really tight.” I cracked a small smile, glad I called him, imagining myself trying to take them off with a small hand tool, imagining the curses that would have started to spew out of my mouth.

After he finished screwing on the last lug nut, I started the car and turned out of the parking lot. Hot tears spilled down my cheeks and I started sinking underwater again. I wailed: “I am suffering, I am suffering, I am suffering.” A laugh bubbled up and interrupted my tragic lament. That laugh was like someone reaching down and pulling me out of the water. That laugh brought breath to my lungs that spread to my heart and along my limbs until my toes tingled.

What Helps Me
As I drove across the Richmond bridge in the slow lane with my donut tire, I looked out at the great expanse of the bay and asked myself: “What helps me find my breath?” What helps me when I sink into a place where I forget beauty, trust, and gratitude?

First and foremost, breathing deeply. I often hold my breath when I am sinking, and that cuts off oxygen to my brain. Laughter is another way to breathe deeply, as is dancing to a song rich with rhythm and beat. Perspective is another hand that pulls me out – like thinking about that mother who did not know where her daughter was for five days. I did not attend the prayer circle for the mother because I was having dinner with my precious, safe daughter. Perspective reminds me I am not the only person feeling minor annoyance or deep despair. Yoga is another hand that pulls me up and gives me breath, which is why I was sad to miss my class. I pondered more ways I find my breath as I transitioned onto the 80 freeway. I had gotten up that morning and set my timer for 15 minutes to meditate, counting my in-breath and out-breath to 10. Whenever I noticed I was on number 34, I returned to 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

As I exited on Gilman Avenue and passed the soccer fields, I thought of my twins, now 21 and embarking on their own journeys. They are finding the hands in life that will pull them up when they go underwater, stop breathing, and forget their resiliency.

On this day my faithful, strong hands, born of constant discipline, pulled me up from a minor drama. Sometimes, when someone we love goes away or executive decrees slap down justice unrelentingly, we really do feel like we are drowning, like we cannot breathe. Many people in my circle are reeling day to day, as if there is a boot on their necks, pushing their precious faces under water. Many I don’t know have had their faces pushed under water for decades, for centuries, for many lifetimes.

So again, I ask you: How do you find your breath?

Finding your breath means looking unflinchingly at the larger picture and also being one with every single detail that grounds us. To make a good cup of tea, I have to be that tea, and the cup. I have to be the hot water. Sometimes I am the honey and the spoon and the coconut milk.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a buddhist teacher, said it well:  If you can hold the pain of the world and never forget the vastness of the great eastern sun, then you can make a proper cup of tea. #coaching #breath #greateasternsun

 

You are a Ferrari

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Once upon a time there was a tuna who lived in the Gulf of México, who I will call Tunita. She cavorted with her friends and began growing from her juvenile size of half an inch to close to about 2 feet long at 1.5 years. This group of friends and her were shoaling, swimming somewhat independently, but in such a way that they stay connected, forming a social group that provided defense against predators and enhanced their foraging for other fish, squid, shellfish, and plankton. Tunita did not know how big a tuna should grow in the wild, because 90 percent of the worldwide catch of Pacific Bluefin tuna is less than 2 years old and under 3 feet long. She did not know that she could live over twenty years, weigh 1,000 pounds, and be 9-13 feet in length.

Ferrari of the Ocean
Imagine all the tunas swimming with Tunita, fish who can cut through the sea at up to 43 miles an hour. Tunita began swimming across the gulf, her and her shoal’s intention to cross the entire Atlantic Ocean and feed off the coast of Europe, and then swim all the way back to the Gulf to breed. Why go so far? Because those are the best feeding grounds. Tunita doesn’t know it, but she is the Ferrari of the ocean—sleek, powerful, and made for speed. Her growing torpedo-shaped body streamlines through the water, and her special swimming muscles enables her to cruise the ocean highways with great efficiency. She is with bigger tunas who have made the passage many times.

But sadly for Tunita and many of her friends, tuna highways have turned into gauntlets lined with giant nets and endless lines of fishing boats. Fishermen have resorted to high-tech ways to catch Tunita, including devices that draw the fish into bunches so that fishermen can catch more of them at once. One day after they have rounded Florida, Tunita finds herself caught in a net that tugs her slowly up with many of her friends and many of the bigger tunas. Just as they are about to be dropped on to the deck of a boat, she wriggles free and drops back into the ocean. Her size saves her that time, and even though she is in constant danger of not reaching her full size, she perseveres and reaches the best feeding grounds year after year until she grows to be her full length and weight.

We too can meet the fate of Tunita’s friends, and die having only grown to one third of what we could be.

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Nets in our Minds
When I was young, I had amazing dreams. Then my dream became entangled in a net made of family obligations, other people’s dreams, and the glass ceilings placed on me by virtue of gender, race, class, and my parents’ national origin and educational level. I didn’t notice our growth had stopped because all the other fish around me were about the same size and I began to think it was normal. I stopped making the effort to understand and thus reach my best feeding grounds. When someone came along and was what we might call “larger than life” like Tunita, I saw them as an outlier, an exception, crazy, gifted, not part of my shoal.

Unlike Tunita and the many tunas who face extinction, many of our nets are in our mind. Like her, we can escape and grow into big tunas who find the best environment to thrive, even if it means temporarily or permanently leaving your shoal to find other big or growing tunas. This act of self-compassion is an inner journey that dissolves nets to release our energy and join with others committed to full-hearted growth. This synergy becomes so powerful that you become ensnared less and less with negative messages that you don’t deserve to live your purpose. We all have the capacity to shine the light we were given at birth.

Embracing Conscious Habits
How do we untangle ourselves and begin to swim freely when we are on parched land with a limited mindset and bruised heart? We have to stop worshipping big tunas and instead learn what it takes for us to shine – this usually means releasing our comfortable habitat and embracing failure as a natural outgrowth of risk. Not once, not twice, but as a conscious, habitual approach to life.

Why do we separate ourselves from our greatness? Marianne Williamson says it in a passage many have heard:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

This means taking a good, long look in the mirror and admitting we have decided, consciously or unconsciously, to play small. It could be in many areas. Let me share two that are core to my transformational process.
Physical health: How many of us have taken the time to decide what our optimal health is? Often we have a vague idea of some amount of exercise, some general food and drink parameters, and a minimum sleep requirement. Have we done actual research to identify what our body needs specific to our age, our preferences, and our lifestyle? Do we know what our body positively responds to and are we diligent in honoring those needs? Have we created structures that hold us accountable?

Financial prosperity: Can you tell me how much you spend on transportation each month, each year? What is your basic budget that covers your essentials each month? Have you explored what Robert Kiyosaki calls the Cash Flow quadrant and determined your plan for generating income apart from trading time for money? What is the glass ceiling you have placed above yourself, the limit of money you are allowed to generate? Women talk about the glass ceiling all the time and bemoan sexism and I did too. I woke up one day and looked up at my self-imposed glass ceiling. Ouch. I found the courage to face my own limiting beliefs about what I could earn – it was about $80,000, just a little higher than what I had ever earned. Why? Because it would create a little more ease while not allowing me to dream big. It would also separate me from my shoal — people committed to social justice who thought wealth was equivalent to greed and self-aggrandizement. By exploring the truth behind this belief, I fueled the heat needed to melt my ceiling.

Limiting Self Talk
My aspiration and momentum now is to grow into being a big tuna. Sounds great, right? Not always so. Unlike tunas in the sea, if we get bigger, people get scared. You no longer mirror their own self-limiting beliefs.
You can be met with verbal or non-verbal messages like:
Why do you care so much?
Why can’t you settle down?
That seems really unrealistic.
Can you tone it down?
How can you live in such a wealthy area?

Many of these have been internalized so we police ourselves. Limiting self talk that are the nets in our mind.

Only Data, Not Destiny
What is one step in this journey to better feeding grounds? For me it was seeing information and experiences as only data to assist me to make the next best decision. Oops, I went up the wrong driveway. Let me back up, call a friend, and find my way to my destination. It is not my destiny to stay in poor feeding grounds.

As a school educated, middle class woman of color, I am often not among many people who look like me in privileged settings. My protective survival mode wants to get riled up and angry about the lack of diversity in yoga classes, in business conventions, at buddhist temples, and when river rafting or kayaking. Problem is, starting from this place automatically shuts down my capacity to feel like I belong, and that then shuts down my capacity to be fully present and accept the amazing gifts available to me in the moment.

When I began assessing information as data without immediately using old strategies that simply entangled me emotionally and spirtually, I could then see and scan my options and make decisions with grace and ease. There is still plenty of room for my disappointments, pain, and also for authentic compassion. There is also more room for growing even in feeding grounds that are not ideal, because I am relentless in living my purpose.

Perseverance is non-negotiable to live with the tangle of internal nets that will try again and again to have us play small in life. It is up to each of us to discover and swim to our dreams so that our inner Ferraris can rev up their motors. Decide on and commit to your best feeding grounds. Your journey will require you to return to them again and again, regardless of the changing currents and nets that are inevitable but not the last word. Your growing, brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous being will make sure of that.

Entering and Leaving

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Entering and leaving relationships, be it personal, professional or anything in between, are often unnamed interactions that form life-changing impacts. I will touch on a few critical factors that make them either successful or painful, and how to practice more intentionally.

Luis Rodriguez, the 2014 Los Angeles poet laureate and long-time community builder wrote: “Entering and leaving are important aspects of any relationship and have to be given strict attention. Entering properly means being embraced, adequately oriented, and helped. Leaving properly means moving on without any outstanding issues, rancor, or feelings of unfinished business.”

I bet you can name multiple examples where there was no attention given to either of these activities and the fallout still lives inside you. You can probably think more easily of how you were a victim and perhaps, less comfortably, of how you might have been a perpetrator of poor beginnings and endings.

Entering with Intention
Entering properly means being embraced. That is a powerfully intimate image. It brings up a sense of belonging, where you don’t feel an obligation to accommodate others and don’t ask that of others — a challenging goal in a society still rife with power inequities – invisible or horribly blatant.

I have only been asked once with intention and follow through to be someone’s friend. I met Sam during a work project and he invited me out to lunch and asked to be my friend. It touched me, and served to make me more thoughtful about marking relationships with people. Before, I had often entered relationships based on who was “around” rather than making sure there was a heart and purpose connection. Now I agree with the Spanish idiom says: “Mejor sola que mal acompañada” – Better to be alone than in poor company – because I am much clearer about what I am manifesting in life and I seek out those who have a similar vision of equity, prosperity, and well being for all.

Leaving without Rancor
This has meant a firm commitment and practice of leaving properly without any outstanding issues, rancor, or feelings of unfinished business. Rancor is defined as an angry feeling of hatred or dislike for someone who has treated you unfairly, bitter deep-seated ill will. Let’s face it, how many of us want to revisit that hot vat of oil? Proper leavetaking that honors our values requires it and often makes it even more challenging than conscious entering.

Leavetaking with grace and power means walking resolutely out the front door, as opposed to sneaking out the back door. I often have to retrace my steps slowly enough to admit and address unresolved issues. Leaving, as we all know, is just as intimate as entering. In reflecting on my most unpleasant leavetakings, the pattern that emerged was that my experience of leaving was directly related to … my process of entering.

Know and Practice Your Values
I invite you to begin today to reflect on how to enter, and if the time comes, how to leave properly. We do it all the time. Every room or office we step into and out of is a moment to apply attention. How we treat our daily, ongoing entering and leavetaking is great practice for the big ones that can leave scars or inspire us to new heights. What are the values you want to practice and how do you make them non-negotiable first to yourself and then how do you share with others?

Regardless of how you have engaged in entering and leavetaking in the past, what is important is to keep learning the lessons offered. It is never too late to reflect on why past experiences still rankle us. You can easily make a list of at least 3-5 and clean up the emotional, spiritual and even financial debris. The more rancor one feels, the greater the lessons to be gleaned.

As you leave and enter connections, remember these three tips:
1.     Commit to honestly asking why you want a new relationship or work situation or home and how it serves your greater purpose.
2.    Pay attention to creating enterings for people, including yourself, so adequate orientation and authentic support is provided.
3.    When you leave spaces, make sure you attend to any rancor either directly or internally so you can leave it behind.
Attentive entering sets the groundwork for more positive leaving full of good will and self-respect. That is a gift worth giving and receiving.

 If you want some further information on a model I have used frequently with my coaching clients, I suggest the small book Transitions by William Bridges.

125% People: Doing Too Much

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For “125%” people, giving enough isn’t the problem! Do you know someone like this? Are you this person? 125% people don’t just give 100%, they give beyond what is needed and beyond what is healthy for their spirits.

Historical and Current Impact of Discrimination
One characteristic is their focus is on external praise rather than internal confidence, often more pronounced in women of color. They try to be perfect because they don’t believe they are allowed to fail, learn from their mistakes, and be given a second chance. Unfortunately, with the realities of society, these fears are not imagined. The wage gap continues to exist, as well as denial of the daily and historical experience of discrimination and harassment by both perpetrators and survivors. Just today I read a Facebook post by women acknowledging recovered memories of assault and harassment due to a Presidential candidate’s disparaging comments on women.

This supports the habit to do more than 100%. I recently caught a thought in my head that grinds my joy to dust: “If I had just said ‘it’ perfectly, I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.”  I relaxed once it was safely in my consciousness and I could smile at my ego. A more authentic thought arose: “I took a risk and spoke my truth as skillfully as I could. I am on the edge of growth, which often feels scary/uncomfortable.” I am committed to releasing patterns and thoughts that no longer, if ever, serve me and I coach my clients to snare similar ‘125%’ thoughts. Why? The long-term cost is high at all levels of our lives.

“If I do Things Right”
I had been working with a client over several years who decided to go to grad school. Her primary worry revolved around how to tell her agency and fill her position many months ahead of time. She gave them four months notice, agreed to create a transition plan, AND lead the search process. She told herself she was doing this for the students and families. As we explored what swirled below this layer, she recognized she was still proving her worth by making everything easy for everyone else – that external pull for praise.

Much of this stems from our childhood experiences. Some unconscious thoughts that emerged for her: “If I do things right, I will save my family” and “Pretty, fun, and social aren’t going to get me anything”.

This A or B thinking leads 125% people to see the choice as giving more or failing.  Failure is not an option if you are to save your family or your client or your partner. The habit that solidifies is an outward energy of giving, like a broken water spigot with no clear tool to control or stop the flow.

Giving + Receiving = Well-being
The result of understanding this dynamic is to focus instead on developing and using skills to manage the giving flow so that it is measured and involves receiving as well.

The tool I suggested to her and other clients is practicing being ‘good enough’, which for 125% people means scaling back to 100%. We have to dig deeper than the A or B options besides failure and giving more. Work to develop thoughts and actions that shift you into a ‘less is more’ approach, since 125% people already do far more than most people do. In doing this, my client felt more emotional energy to be present with the rainbow of feelings we all have when leaving a job or project. This allowed her to enter her graduate program with a high level of well-being rather than regrets and exhaustion.

Dangers of 125% behaviors
Giving to others can be used to avoid loving ourselves with all our foibles and challenges, to avoid saying and doing the kind, generous acts to ourselves that flow easily to others. This trajectory can become a tangle of unconscious resentful strings. “See how I do this for you? Do it for me.” We never say this, but it is our primordial plea, our belief that others’ love is the key to our worth.

The 125% approach gives us a false sense of control to manage the political, economic, psychological and spiritual impacts of oppression. It backfires when we hide perceived weaknesses rather than remember, as Maya Angelou said:  “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” That means giving our full selves and accepting support and appreciation for our courage to take risks.

We are in this Together
We understand the importance of teamwork when we are on a project and we must apply this to all aspects of our lives. Get together to play, complete challenging tasks, and share joys and sorrows. Self-love and love of others are integral when you commit to do well rather than to do too much. Releasing each of those extra 25 percentage points is like clearing away cloud cover so that we can fully experience the sparkle of the stars in the night sky of our lives.

Choose ‘Kind’ over ‘Nice’

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Many people use the words nice and kind interchangeably. Knowing the difference is fundamental to fostering personal authenticity and honest, meaningful interactions with others.

Different Intentions
Being nice or being kind are significantly different in INTENTION.
Nice emanates from the INTENTION of pleasing, being agreeable, and most importantly, being liked, as in the idiom to “make nice”. It is used too often and has become a cliché, lacking much substance. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to please someone or be agreeable. However, when you do it from a place of being liked, it erodes your capacity to be powerfully present and grounded in your truth. Kind, on the other hand, emanates from the INTENTION of honesty and integrity, rather than on being liked.

Power and Survival
My own path began with being raised, like most women and many men, to be nice from a place of being accepted and liked, of affirming my value externally. This meant being amiable in the face of micro-aggressions and keeping my mouth shut as in: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. Interestingly enough, this first appeared in Bambi, when Thumper, who started out being appropriately curious and honest, was chastised with this phrase into being nice.

Unlike Thumper, I didn’t do well with this lesson. My need to speak my truth won out despite a strong desire to be liked. This resulted in ongoing problems with authority figures. I was dunked in my backyard pool by my mom, made to step out in the hallway by a teacher, and suspended, demoted, and fired in different social service jobs. I did not intend to challenge authority. I was driven by values of justice and well being for myself, staff I supervised, and our resilient clients. I slowly understood over the years that some of how people reacted to my truth-telling was tied to my power status. Privilege, by virtue of gender, race, age and work status, to name a few, determines who has to ‘play nice’ and who gets to speak their mind. You can see why being kind gets lost in all this jockeying for power and survival.

Pain and Pride
After completing my MFA and sending my memoir to an editorial consultant, I wanted her to tell me how much she loved my book and to suggest agents. While she applauded my writing, she honed in on how I could tell my story with a more intriguing structure and build my writing platform while doing this. At the time I felt discouraged because I had invested years in my book and did not want to, basically, write another book. Nevertheless, I took her words to heart and have since built a strong platform as well as re-written my memoir many times over to do justice to the story. All this pain and now pride in my memoir and writing life  overall germinated when Marcela Landres chose to be kind – she spoke the truth in a considerate yet forthright manner.

Kindness Practice Tips
To develop and sustain a regular kindness practice requires some clear intentions and behaviors.

First, be kind to yourself. Be honest when you reflect on your thoughts and actions each day. Acknowledge when you have made a misstep and take whatever action is required to be back in harmony with yourself and others. As the poet Rumi says, “Be kind to yourself, dear – to your innocent follies. Forget any sound or touch you knew that did not help you dance. You will come to see that all evolves us.”

Second, focus your intention on being considerate, compassionate and boundaried. A buddhist teacher gave me 3 questions to ask when I found myself in the netherworld of deciding what to do when I disagreed with someone: Is it true? Is it beneficial? Is it the right time and place? I use these questions all the time. When I decide the answer to all 3 is yes, then I speak, kindly, from my heart. Sometime it takes me 3 seconds to answer the questions, sometimes 3 days.

Finally, remember the cost of being nice from a place of external acceptance is high. Focusing primarily on pleasing others and being liked can be emotionally numbing. It takes the edge off of the necessary pain of disagreement that is essential in truly authentic relationships. It also dulls our brilliance and power and makes us less willing to be courageous. As Nelson Mandela said: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

He was a kind man who changed the world. If you aspire to your own special greatness, contact me for a 20 minute complimentary coaching session at 510-593-4685.

The Imposter Syndrome Lives On

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Fake…Poser…Imposter… These words can be found lurking in the corners of your mind.
That is, the fear that you do not deserve to be in the good position you are in, be it school, work, or any place of success and recognition. We have often heard the phrase to ‘fake it until we make it’, but that is different than believing that we are nothing unless someone tells us we are. Similar to the question about a tree falling in the forest – do you exist if no one sees your brilliance but you? Do you see your essential goodness and love yourself when nobody’s watching? If not, then you may have a touch of the imposter syndrome.

Hope Robs Us of the Present Moment
Pema Chödrön nails this imposter syndrome perfectly: “Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what is going on, but that there is something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.”

Many of us were taught or caught the idea that who we were was not right. In the moment we believed it. We then began creating another image of ourselves and feeding it with alleged proof of our inadequacy whenever we made a mistake, extra solidification if pointed out by someone with institutional or cultural or familial power. It eroded the innate internal value that we were all born with as children.

Imposters Can’t Lose
We call wolves loners, whereas in fact they are very tribal and take care of their own. Like them, we are also tribal, but we become loners in carefully crafted ways so people can’t see that we are not what we pretend. We may have wonderful achievements, both big and small, as mothers, as business owners, as community members, but we never truly embrace it because we think we couldn’t possibly be that successful. We credit people, events, luck or God. We develop an aversion for that place where mistakes are seen as growth opportunities, instead hanging out where we know THE answer. Why? Imposters can’t lose – it will blow our cover.

Problem is, we have to lose! Money, relationships, work, ideas, love, certainty.
One thing our imposter image is really good at is accepting blame, shame, and guilt. I called a Latina supervisor out of a retreat room once because her staff was going to surprise her with flowers and appreciations. As we left she said, “What did I do wrong?” This is a favorite question of our imposter syndrome. As we waited for the signal to re-enter the room, she said: “I hope they aren’t going to do something bad to me.” I chastised her: “Why don’t you think of something positive instead of worrying? And anyway, I would never let that happen on my watch.” I paused, hearing my judgmental stance, and switched the channel to compassion: “I have those thoughts too, it is an old script in my head. It will never go away, but I catch it sooner and sooner, and so will you.”

A buddhist precept encourages us not to praise self at the expense of others. This does not mean not appreciating our genuine efforts and success. It means we are not unduly boastful of our success OR of our errors, which is – surprise – another way of praising ourselves: “Look how good I am at being stupid or clumsy or inattentive.”

Internalized Subtle Messages
I did not truly believe in my innate value until well into my thirties. My mother nitpicked at my sense of worth partly based on her own sense of unworthiness as an immigrant with a thick accent. She also saw me have success in areas she could not. An odd legacy for many of us is the presumption we have to do “better” than our parents. This can result in harmful competitive energy between children and parents. I also internalized subtle messages from media and from my lived experience that Latinas were meant to be farmworkers, office help, child care workers, or maids and this culture denigrates those roles. Even though I attended first La Verne College and then Stanford University, my jobs included dorm maid, work-study office assistant, church service child care provider, and fast food cook.

Role Models Matter
I had one woman of color professor during my undergraduate time in college, none when I received my MSW. By the time I entered my MFA program, I insisted on having my two advisors be women of color. I knew, by then, that role models who navigated many of the challenges I faced were a critical key to believing in my true self, not the image of what most writers look like.

Gabby Douglas, the first African American to win an Olympic all around gold medal, said: “I loved Dominique Dawes. She inspired me to do bigger and better things.” Dawes, for her part, cried her way through an interview after Douglas’ big win. “I think what touches my heart the most is knowing that there’s a whole generation of young kids looking up to her as they looked up to me,” she said.

In an article on role models, Oprah names Maya Angelou as hers and said: “Over the years, she has taught me some of the most profound lessons of my life: that when we know better, we do better; that to love someone is to liberate, not possess, them; that negative words have the power to seep into the furniture and into our skin; that we should be grateful even for our trials.”

Here are some tips on how to diffuse this invisible energy field that drains our sense of worth:
1. Give yourself many chances to lose. Imposters are terrified of being found out – this inner mole will always point us toward the direction of what we know well. Accepting your authentic worth means getting out and playing the game. If you are naked of your well-crafted disguises, you will get hurt. When this happens to me in quick succession, I feel a deep pain that sometimes seep down into the small remaining embers of my imposter syndrome – “you see,” it says, “you were a fake all along”.
2. Know what to do with the disappointment. This is a whole blog in itself. The quick answer is to go talk about it with people who do not practice shame or blame. Remember that isolation is the cornerstone of the imposter syndrome and of oppresssion.
3. Finally, count your breaths, find time to play and rest, and be grateful for every chance to live boldly. It is hard to show up messy. There will be tears. Even the buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh cries. There will be bruises. STAY. Breathe. Trust.

The imposter syndrome is tough to release and it absolutely can be shrunk to a light breeze that comes and goes. No matter what anyone else does, we can ALWAYS give ourselves another chance and “failing” is how we have learned since birth. It is just information to use for the next time we step up and commit to living our one wild and precious life!

Friendships Deserve Our Attention

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Many of the most important relationships we have and will have are our friendships. French author Anais Nin said, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Because of the amazing potential of friendship, it is important to step back and consider this often unexplored aspect of our lives. I invite you to consider your own friendship paradigm and how you can live with more intent in this critical area. Wikipedia defines friendship as: a relationship between two or more people who hold mutual affection for each other.

Understand your Current Framework
When I was a child, I believed in love ever after… with my friends.
I believed that when someone was my friend, they would always be my friend. The only thing to stop our friendships was one of us moving away, as my first and second best friends did. This was before the internet! That was the unconscious framework I held for many years.

It changed after a conversation with a grammar school friend when I was in my mid-twenties. I told her I was living in a house with my boyfriend and another couple. I felt her beaming on the other side of the phone. She had had serial boyfriends and I had not – he was in fact my first official boyfriend. I understood she had judged me negatively over the years and now I was part of the ‘clan’. There had never really been ‘mutual affection’ between us. Now that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, I saw the tangled strings attached to her affection over the years, and I cut them and her from my life. I formed my first conscious definition of friendship – a friend is someone who does not approve of you only when you behave the way they behave.

See friendship as a conscious choice based on mutual healthy self-disclosure.
Beverley Fehr, a University of Winnipeg sociologist and author of Friendship Processes, asserts: “The transition from acquaintanceship to friendship is typically characterized by an increase in both the breadth and depth of self-disclosure.”

Self-disclosure is an interesting word and means different things to each of us. What I consider depth is not often where others wish to venture. It is ‘going to the places that scare you’, as buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s book by that title states. A new world cannot be born if we and our friends remain in our known, familiar territory.

As I explored new inner worlds and expressed that externally, by moving where I wanted to live, being driven by my passion for writing, and living an openly spiritual life, I tapered off friendships that lacked breadth or depth. I was no longer willing to have repetitive conversations based on past experiences or unmet needs.

A second turning point was when I chose to study for my MFA. I had a good friend who could not accept my limited availability for a specific period of time, as it triggered a sense of abandonment she experienced when her mother left her to come to the US to work. I understood then that I could neither heal her wounds nor give up my dreams – that was not part of what friendship required. I trusted her to find her way as I found mine.

What is Your Friendship Paradigm?
In the very short Mitta Sutta, or discourse on friends, the Buddha tells his monks to seek out friends with seven qualities: “He gives what is hard to give. She does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. She reveals her secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, she doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.”

This framework speaks to self-disclosure and to mutuality, both keys to healthy, vibrant friendships. Using this framework doesn’t make my decisions easy, but it gives me a foundation strong enough to withstand the inevitable gales of delusion.

Take the time to decide what your friendship framework is and to release or strengthen your friendships based on your current needs. Friendships are essential to our well-being and do not, as I thought as a child, last forever.

Because of that, it is possible at times to find yourself in a ‘friend desert’. We have decided what we deserve, and have stopped engaging with friends who do not nurture our authenticity and courage. We are more often alone. Then the pain comes and we feel sad and lonely. We can then be tempted to sort through our contacts and start making excuses for friends’ behavior, giving them the kindness and love we deserve. We are disappointed once again.

Being Our Own Best Friend
And then… we stop. With an abiding, authentic sense of worthiness, we re-commit to spending time with our true selves and return to the inward journey of becoming comfortable with solitude. We learn about many kinds of relationships, including acquaintances, mentors, colleagues and FaceBook ‘friends’. We also watch out for those who do bring what we want, but do not practice mutuality. We discover we are our own best friend and, once the wave of hot loneliness has washed over us, we focus on embodying the seven qualities for ourselves. We enjoy our company when alone because we are infinite and vast and we hold the universe in our soul.

Acting Your Many Ages

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People think that acting your age is only related to your biological age and is either good or bad. My experience tells me it is neither.

Body, Mind, and Spirit
The many areas that form the core of healthy maturity are encompassed under the 3 overall sections of Body, Mind, and Spirit. Acting your many ages means understanding two key points: 1. while we are a physical age, we are also an emotional age, a sensual age, an intellectual age, and many others. 2. these many ages are likely to be at different levels of maturity. So much of life is struggling to gather all our age ducks in a row, or at least in the same pond. It is only when our ages work together that our needs are met.

For example, I have been a competitive amateur athlete all my life, but it is only in the last ten years or so that I have embraced this fully. Because I was a female and Latina, I had no role models to support that part of my growth for many years. My mind told me I was being unfeminine. My spirit responded with anger because I was frustrated with the contradictory messages I got from my family and society. This lead to one semi-fist fight my sister would be happy to tell you about and a few yellow cards from the soccer referee for saying things I probably shouldn’t have said…out loud. Therefore, my body did not perform to the best of its ability because it was not in union with my mind and spirit. As Iyanla Vanzant says: “There should be a natural shift in our consciousness as we mature in life, but sometimes it does not happen.” It was only because I put energy and time into growing up emotionally and spiritually that I now step on a tennis court and play with my body, mind, and my spirit.

What is Maturity?
Think of yourself as being born like a packet of wildflowers seeds. Each area of your life is ready to grow to its full potential.  Some seeds take root easily and flourish with the right conditions. Some seeds land on hard soil, in places with more shade, or in terrain that directs water away from it. Even if some begin to grow despite inhospitable conditions, there may be wind tunnels that batter some areas of your growth so you get stuck in thoughts and behaviors that don’t serve you. A field of wildflowers at its most beautiful and mature is when all the varieties bloom and are mixed in together to create a natural bouquet.

Our natural bouquet of maturity is also at its most beautiful when our body, mind, and spirit bloom together. We have all felt that – even if fleeting – when we, the people around us, and the environment was full of light, air, and nourishment.

Barriers to Growth and Maturity
To fully flourish, we need to identify barriers to our full growth. First, we tend to rely too heavily on the aspects of our being where we have natural talent and reach maturity with little effort. Secondly, we can focus on where we get positive external recognition, like our intellect. The third and most challenging barrier to all our flowers blooming, however, are traumatic events. It is all well and good to say: “Grow where you are planted”. It another thing altogether to think abusive, racist, or economically starved environments don’t result in serious harm and self-doubt about both our right and capacity to blossom.

Never Too Late
The good news is that it is truly never too late to flourish. This takes effort. It’s like trying to pat your head, circle your stomach and hop at the same time – without putting concerted, relaxed effort into the development of our Body, Mind, and Spirit, we cannot do all three at once.

As a gardener and a life-long learner, I suggest that the first step to a beautiful garden or a more aligned life is taking an honest look at the state of your soil in supporting the well being of your Body, Mind, and Spirit. Then, commit to small, prioritized steps to make the conditions conducive for all your flowers to flourish.

Working with a coach is a great way to sort out the state of your inner garden. For a complimentary 20 minute session, call or email me. 510-593-4685; linda@lindagonzalez.net