Saturday, April 2, 2011

10 Life Lessons You Should Unlearn

I know that I have my fair share of bad habits, sleeping with my makeup on is just the beginning of the list! Here are 10 lessons Martha Beck from O Magazine has learned she needs to unlearn.

1. Problems are bad. You spent your school years solving arbitrary problems imposed by boring authority figures. You learned that problems—comment se dit?—suck. But people without real problems go mad and invent things like base jumping and wedding planning. Real problems are wonderful, each carrying the seeds of its own solution. Job burnout? It's steering you toward your perfect career. An awful relationship? It's teaching you what love means. Confusing tax forms? They're suggesting you hire an accountant, so you can focus on more interesting tasks, such as flossing. Finding the solution to each problem is what gives life its gusto.
I've never been one for brain teasers and word searches, but I do know the satisfaction of finally grasping the solution I've been straining for.

2. It's important to stay happy. Solving a knotty problem can help us be happy, but we don't have to be happy to feel good. If that sounds crazy, try this: Focus on something that makes you miserable. Then think, "I must stay happy!" Stressful, isn't it? Now say, "It's okay to be as sad as I need to be." This kind of permission to feel as we feel—not continuous happiness—is the foundation of well-being.
There's nothing that makes me more miserable than plastering my big, fake happy smile over my sad, miserable broken heart.

3. I'm irreparably damaged by my past. Painful events leave scars, true, but it turns out they're largely erasable. Jill Bolte Taylor, the neuroanatomist who had a stroke that obliterated her memory, described the event as losing "37 years of emotional baggage." Taylor rebuilt her own brain, minus the drama. Now it appears we can all effect a similar shift, without having to endure a brain hemorrhage. The very thing you're doing at this moment—questioning habitual thoughts—is enough to begin off-loading old patterns. For example, take an issue that's been worrying you ("I've got to work harder!") and think of three reasons that belief may be wrong. Your brain will begin to let it go. Taylor found this thought-loss euphoric. You will, too.
If I want to introduce a new change in our lives I have to do it little by little. Taking it one conversation at a time helps us work through the changes and picture it happening.

4. Working hard leads to success. Baby mammals, including humans, learn by playing, which is why "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." Boys who'd spent years strategizing for fun gained instinctive skills to handle real-world situations. So play as you did in childhood, with all-out absorption. Watch for ways your childhood playing skills can solve a problem (see #1). Play, not work, is the key to success.
Anyone with a toddler can tell you that their playing looks an awful lot like hard work! I swear Wes would have the time of his life at a 5k run!
While we're on the subject...

5. Success is the opposite of failure. Fact: From quitting smoking to skiing, we succeed to the degree we try, fail, and learn. Studies show that people who worry about mistakes shut down, but those who are relaxed about doing badly soon learn to do well. Success is built on failure.
There are a lot of things in my life that I never tried because I was afraid of falling flat on my face. I can't tell you how many of those opportunities I wish I could have back.

6. It matters what people think of me. "But if I fail," you may protest, "people will think badly of me!" This dreaded fate causes despair, suicide, homicide. I realized this when I read blatant lies about myself on the Internet. When I bewailed this to a friend, she said, "Wow, you have some painful fantasies about other people's fantasies about you." Yup, my anguish came from my hypothesis that other people's hypothetical hypotheses about me mattered. Ridiculous! Right now, imagine what you'd do if it absolutely didn't matter what people thought of you. Got it? Good. Never go back.
Every teenage girl has felt the pressure and fear of being on the wrong end of the popular hallway. While hopefully this pressure gets better with age, I think it's a major battle that most women fight. I hope to try and instill in my kids a confidence in themselves that I never had.

7. We should think rationally about our decisions. Your rational capacities are far newer and more error-prone than your deeper, "animal" brain. Often complex problems are best solved by thinking like an animal. Consider a choice you have to make—anything from which movie to see to which house to buy. Instead of weighing pros and cons intellectually, notice your physical response to each option. Pay attention to when your body tenses or relaxes. And speaking of bodies...
Ok, while I don't think that Brittney Spears is the poster child in the 'be spontaneous' ad campaign, I DO think that some people just need to let go of their routines and shoot for the stars! Myself included. My protective bubble does not stretch easily.

8. The pretty girls get all the good stuff. So not true. I unlearned this after years of coaching beautiful clients. Yes, these lovelies get preferential treatment in most life scenarios, but there's a catch: While everyone's looking at them, virtually no one sees them. Almost every gorgeous client had a husband who'd married her breasts and jawline without ever noticing her soul.
While I will always be evilly envious of Jessica Alba's (Tad's celeb crush) gorgeous body, I have realized that good looks does not equal good life.

9. If all my wishes came true right now, life would be perfect. Check it out: People who have what you want are all over rehab clinics, divorce courts, and jails. That's because good fortune has side effects, just like medications advertised on TV. Basically, any external thing we depend on to make us feel good has the power to make us feel bad. Weirdly, when you've stopped depending on tangible rewards, they often materialize. To attract something you want, become as joyful as you think that thing would make you. The joy, not the thing, is the point.
If stuff was the only thing that could make me happy then I'd have one scary credit card bill!

10. Loss is terrible. Ten years ago I still feared loss enough to abandon myself in order to keep things stable. I'd smile when I was sad, pretend to like people who appalled me. What I now know is that losses aren't cataclysmic if they teach the heart and soul their natural cycle of breaking and healing. A real tragedy? That's the loss of the heart and soul themselves. If you've abandoned yourself in the effort to keep anyone or anything else, unlearn that pattern. Live your truth, losses be damned. Just like that, your heart and soul will return home.
I've learned the most valuable lessons from my most heart wrenching experiences. While the pain did not subside easily, if ever, I think I came out the other side better for it.


  1. Wow, this is a fabulous post...very thought-provoking! Found you through FTF and glad I did!

  2. I heard about this post and had to come check it out. All great points! Thanks for the thought provoking list. I also checked out your about "me" section...we are practically neighbors! I'm just North in Cedar!

  3. Thank you for your sweet comments! I'm so glad to know that I have such great readers! And neighbors! What a small world!

  4. Candice - you had me at the organized habits, now this list cements you in my 'always read' blog list :) I wrote a diary journal once about how what I am going through is not unique. While I know everyone is unique in their own way, this list shows that there are universal truths to the human condition.

    Wow, one glass of wine and I'm profound ;)



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