How do you handle disappointment, regret, stress, frustration, sadness, risk or just life in general? What do you do to escape? Is there a repetitive reaction or behavior you participate it when you encounter life’s ups and downs? Is the response one you take the time to evaluate as being healthy or unhealthy? Have you ever said to yourself, I need a beer, a cigarette, a piece of chocolate or two, or some other addictive substance to handle a situation, where one glass of wine turns into a bottle an hour later? Even the behaviors we perceive as being healthy can be substitutes for emotional accountability. I need to exercise again, work longer, volunteer more, lose more weight, etc.
Personally I can reflect where there have been many instances where I would utilize an outside perceived comforter to soften the struggle of life, or the outcome of an event, relationship or project. I am tested each day with my ability to contain patterns of behavior that I know to be self-destructive. How often do we take the time to think before we act? How often do we participate in behaviors and not reflect on the possible cause or outcome of that behavior, and years later we wake up and say to ourselves what have I done to myself? Of course I am referring to irrational excess and consistent patterns of actions, although many sabotaging behaviors in moderation can be incredibly debilitating as well, such as substance abuse. Years may past and you may ask yourself how did I ever go down this road of personal emotional and physical deterioration? The end result of such behaviors may not be a totally sabotaged life, but the day-to-day internal battles that stimulate those behaviors contribute to emotional and physiological struggles that are extremely debilitating.
There are countless experiences we had as children we can examine that aid us in understanding why we are the way we are, but what to do now? Although the deep-rooted understandings of these dysfunctions can be left to the therapist to decipher, I am asking all of us to use common sense in recognizing what we may be doing to ourselves in the course of handling life. I want us all to be happy with ourselves. It is always easier to make the excuse then it is to assess where you are with yourself and incorporate the core values you believe in, act on them and build a greater sense of personal strength and self-respect. The key question to ask yourself, how are my behaviors impacting those around me, especially my loved ones? I believe most individuals know when they are being harmful to themselves, which then translates into the task of taking personal accountability. However, how often do we reflect on how those behaviors may impact those around us, and take accountability for that?
As our society continues a growing pattern of self-rationalized excuses for misbehavior, an all about me, and entitlement attitude, belief in self-determination becomes all the more challenging. Stop the self-sabotage and begin to develop the person you want to be and believe you can be, by understanding there are people who love you, believe in you, count on you and need you. If you impact another person, you have a responsibility to that person and personal accountability is key. Are you taking ownership for your life, dealing with the occasional or constant unhappiness, or are you continuing a pattern of behavior to shelter yourself from feeling what you do not want to feel? If you scream at those around you when you are under stress, what are you protecting, where are you vulnerable? If your opinion must always matter, ask why? If you need to drink to where you cannot feel, what are you not dealing with? It is not fair to you and especially those around you to be miserable and create misery. We all doubt ourselves, so do I, but how extensive are those doubts and how are they impacting others and us? The first major hurdle in overcoming our self-sabotaging is to acknowledge we are doing it. The next jump is to listen to those around us who are the recipients of those self-destructive behaviors. It will always be humility and acceptance of our vulnerabilities that will be the breakthrough in persevering through what we dislike about ourselves. You can only love others to the extent you love yourself.
A week ago yesterday, I happened across “60 Minutes” and began to watch an October 2008 re-run of their documentary on a Spanish Bullfighter, Fracisco Rivera Ordonez, and his escapades in the ring. A ring metaphorically saturated with male testosterone of both human and animal form. Watching this spectacle of animal cruelty, I was genuinely disgusted observing this venue of the suffering and torture of life. Although I have always been aware of bull fighting and the gala of pomp and circumstance surrounding the matadors, my thoughts took me to a visceral level of anger and disgust. The accolades of courage and professionalism directed to this matador by the interviewer undermined my understanding of what those significant character traits mean.
However, the interview did reinforce my understanding of what “narcissism” means, “Excessive or erotic interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance.” Although it takes guts to get in a ring with a raging bull and there are dangers, what is the objective of the ensuing battle except entertainment, wealth and fame? Why not have a few human gladiators murder one another in the ring as an encore? If Michael Vick is a murderous thug and imprisoned for promoting and participating in dog fighting, shouldn’t these matadors be imprisoned and fined for single handedly killing over a thousand bulls over the course of their invigorating career, regardless of culture? It is estimated there are at least 40,000 bulls killed each year in Europe and over 250,000 worldwide each year. In January of this year it was reported an 11-year-old Franco-Mexican bullfighter killed six young bulls during a Saturday performance. That should teach many a young person about the value and dignity of life, you think? There are many other examples of such animal cruelty from the massacre of elephants, whales, dolphins and many other species of endangered and non-endangered animals.
Why would I broach this topic? I am not an extreme environmentalist, nor an animal rights activist, for I always believe in common sense and non-extremism, but I do believe in the ethical treatment of human beings and animals. Viewing this documentary caused me to sadly reflect on this travesty, and direct thought and appreciation towards the wonderment and beauty of nature and the amazing creations that surround us. I understand there are millions of animals slaughtered for food and human consumption, but I do not know how many cattle and chickens are being slaughtered for entertainment.
As the sun blazed brightly this past week creating anticipation of an upcoming spring, I paid more attention to the little things of nature we at times take for granted. The cackling of geese high in the sky returning from their southern vacation, the awakening of local birds, bugs and critters from their wintry confinement, and the mystical lady bugs magically appearing out of nowhere are all a tribute to the miracle of nature. The warmth of a new day as the Northern Hemisphere begins to tilt forward towards the sun invigorates the soul. The expectation of flowers, colors, scents and sounds resonate an excitement for days outdoors, walks in the park, hikes in the high peeks, and swims in mountain lakes. I speak of core values as a foundation for our lives, and I have decided to add a new one, “a greater respect for life”, human, animal, botanical and even astronomical. Of course there are many issues where the term “life” can be a platform for debate and division, but that is for a different venue. However, my heart does hope the same level, preferably a greater level of attention, is placed on respect for human life as may be placed on a animal’s life. Five “smile creating” tips to enhance your appreciation of your surroundings are, * look up and observe the sun, stars, sky, etc. * smell a flower or bouquet * listen to the sounds of chirping, barking, meowing and squeaking * wonder over the amazing details of how something as simple as a bug can be so unique * experience the gentle eyes of the many animals we encounter, just let them be. Each day is a day to be grateful, and each day is a day to be accepting of the simple yet significant part we play in the evolution of the world.
If anyone has made the trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point you are aware that you take exit 17 at Newburgh off the NYS Thruway. As I was passing the exit this past week en route to Allentown, PA to seminar to a group of executives, I reflected on the phrase we commonly used at West Point during this time of year, “Gloom Period”. Gray buildings, gray skies, gray uniforms, gray skin complexions, and gray weather all contributed to a feeling of depression and a yearning for sunshine. As we all presently confront this period of “blah”, we may succumb to the gloom, and in some cases the self-doubt that may creep up and blanket our normal cheery outlook on life. I myself find it difficult at times not to fall into this precipice of reflecting on my life’s journey in an other than healthy and optimistic appraisal.
By its nature “gloom period” fuels the senses to be less positive and less energetic about the present and even the future. There are also times where we may feel trapped inside in our own little cocoon of wonderment, because the dreary weather makes the outside appear uninhabitable. We may even find ourselves doubting our abilities in progressing and creating the life we want. When you doubt yourself is there a bigger issue to be addressed? We all experience self-doubt at times but when it raises it’s ugly head and begins to stifle your day to day enjoyment it is time to take action.
In this trying time of economic instability, political turmoil, and social anxiety, “gloom period” adds another excuse to justify being miserable. My recommendation, snap out of it! It is the weather not your life. It is the cold, snow and rain, not your potential for happiness and contentment. This is the time where the “rubber meets the road”, where individuals show their true personal confidence, attitude and outlook on life. It is where a refection of core values and what you stand for and believe in is extremely beneficial. In regard to business do you sit around and whine about the economy or take the “bull by the horns” and take the initiative to be more creative, innovative and ingenious? In regard to your personal life do you reflect on what should of, could of, and would have been or do you recognize yesterday is gone and you cannot use it as an excuse for not working towards being happy and fulfilled? Questioning where we were, where we are and where we want to be is healthy but only if the outcome of that reflection is recognition of learning from the past, acting on today and planning for the future.
Personally, I can sit and mope about business being slow, conferences being cancelled, companies not spending money on speakers or I can reevaluate and take the action necessary to reinvent the business and persevere through the downturn in the economy. It is harder to leave your comfort zone and attempt a new approach towards the future than it is to generate the excuse that outside forces are wrecking your life. Do you “couch potato” and paddle in a pool of self-pity or take the steps necessary to energize your mind, body and spirit? Do you blame or take accountability for the doubts you may have and take action to overcome those insecurities? Seven steps for overcoming gloom are, *call a friend and go out for a bite to eat, get out of the house *turn off the news and read or watch something uplifting *go find and hang around positive and energetic people now *volunteer and get involved in something that will help others and take your mind off of gloom *eat healthier, exercise a little more and celebrate the gloom, it’s temporary *project optimism by a smile, gesture or a kind word *reenergize the core values you believe in. Finally, while those living in Arizona will be sweltering this summer and having to stay inside because of the heat, we will be having a picnic, swimming in a lake, enjoying the Adirondacks and watching the Thoroughbreds race in the most beautiful place in the country. Smile, it could be worse.