“I Can’t” – A short rant

“I can’t”
“I don’t want to”
“I won’t”
“I shouldn’t have to”

I’m sure you have seen or heard me say this before, words have power. Many people use the above statements interchangeably and I believe it is to their own detriment. The statement, “I can’t” is particularly problematic. When I call people out on this they often dismiss their use of I can’t as trivial. Your brain stores this and over time it becomes true just by repetition. More accurate labeling of your emotion leads to better solutions and avoids the repetitive mislabeling.

Consider this, “I can’t take it any more.” What does that actually mean? Is there something that is implied but not stated? I often hear people using that statement when they are really meaning that they think they shouldn’t really have to do something or when they don’t want to experience something.

Not everyone will agree with me, but I think using I can’t instead of the other terms is a subconscious way, in many instances, to reject taking responsibility for whatever happens next. If I can’t do, tolerate, or handle something then I have more license to get mad, melt down, or avoid.

This isn’t always the case. There are times when I can’t is accurate. I really can’t bend my knee all the way. Multiple injuries and surgeries have rendered that an impossibility. I can’t handle scary movies is less true. More accurate for me would be I don’t want to watch scary movies because they make me uncomfortable and ruin my sleep.

The repeated use of I can’t can reinforce a victim mentality and disempower the user. What you practice will grow stronger. If you repeat something often enough, that belief will grow stronger. Perhaps it would be better to remember the Little Engine That Could. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Or in some cases, I choose not to….I choose not to….I choose not to.

Do I Really Tap?

Do I tap? The quick answer is yes. I do tap, but not as much as I would like to. I think about tapping often, but for some reason I don’t always follow through. There are probably lots of reasons. Sometimes I’m in a situation where tapping just wouldn’t be comfortable. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have time. In reality that would almost never be true. The more accurate answer is that I would like to have more time to tap on an issue at length and don’t want interruptions. Other times I’m just too upset to remember that I even know tapping. Yes, that’s a real thing. I’m not the only one this happens to.

Honestly, I used to do it a lot more. Several years ago I had many more problems and challenges than I have now. The past several years have been really good for me. I’ve made many lifestyle changes that have brought me great contentment and satisfaction. This has resulted in having less urgency to do tapping in my day.

It is important to state that I definitely believe that tapping works. I believe my life would be even better if I was using it on a daily basis. I’m working toward that. It would be ideal to do before I even get out of bed, but that probably isn’t realistic for me. Because I’m a creature of habit, it is very hard to change the pattern of activity when I’m not yet fully functional and haven’t looked at my to-do list. I’m usually on autopilot until I get into the shower. Perhaps a few minutes of tapping in the shower might be helpful for getting my day started. Tapping right before bed to declutter my mind and body from all the of “junk” of the day is great.

I now do tapping mostly around issues of physical pain, uncertainty about a plan or choice, and occasional feelings of insecurity. There is benefit from tapping when I am teaching it to clients and get to “borrow benefits” from tapping along with their issues. I don’t consider that my tapping, but it still helps. Other challenges that are waiting for me in my “tapping journal” include issues of aging, difficulty managing clutter, and negative comparisons of myself with others. Difficulty balancing my many activities, or difficulty letting go of some of my many activities, is also a topic for future tapping.

If you are a tapper, I’d love to hear how you use tapping in your daily life.

Never done tapping and want to learn more? Click Here.


Attraversiamo

Attraversiamo literally means “let’s cross over.” I learned this word while reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was captured by it with the first reading and it has continued to sit in the back of my mind ever since. Attraversiamo. This is actually pretty amusing since I am generally averse to change of most any kind. Changing sides of the road doesn’t hold any special appeal, but the thought of crossing over in a larger sense is strangely alluring. I think of crossing a bridge, changing life priorities, and pursuing new passions. This leads to my alternate title – What did you do during the pandemic? I chose to pursue some new attitudes and develop some new passions.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

I want to say a few more words about the book Eat Pray Love. Everytime I read or listen to it I recognize something new. It speaks to me in a new way. There are several books that offer a similar chance at new discovery. Perhaps it is because I blinked out for a moment when reading it the first time and missed something, but I think it is really because each time I read it I am different. I have changed. I have crossed over. Attraversiamo.

As I have mentioned in other posts, I seem to be in a season of change. Perhaps it is age, perhaps it is societal influences, or maybe I’m just ready. Simplifying things has become a priority. My life has generally been fairly complicated, with many irons in the fire. I previously liked it that way most of the time. But particularly since the pandemic, I have enjoyed the slower pace of life. In that way it was a blessing in disguise. Some people have really struggled with the isolation from other people. For the most part, I have savored the quietness. I’m packing up things I no longer need or want so that I can donate them and I’m only keeping things that still bring me joy. Attraversiamo.

I’ve started a practice of letter writing to keep in touch with my dearest friends. Admittedly, waiting for a response has been challenging since I’ve been used to almost instant gratification from my previous social media days. I’ve found that I enjoy choosing what paper I’m going to use as well as sharing the events of my life. Attraversiamo.

Many people have complained of boredom. I instead have had so many things that I truly love to do that it is often difficult to chose between them. And…..I have collected instruments. My passion for music has reignited. Not only have I continued playing piano and hammered dulcimer, I am now the proud owner of a mandolin, kalimba, steel tongue drum, and a bagpipe practice chanter (more on bagpipes in another post).

I took a class in choral composition, embarked on a self study of music theory, and I attended the Estill Voice Level I Training in July. The choral composition class with Elaine Hagenberg was pure joy and I have continued to compose almost daily since it finished. The Estill Voice training kicked my butt but was still wonderful.

You might not immediately see this as a change for me. How is this crossing over? In the past I was focused on the end product, but now I am taking pleasure in the process. Attraversiamo.

What changes are you ready to make in your life? Are you open to noticing opportunities? I haven’t always been open to the possibilities ahead, but now…Attraversiamo.

Caution vs Fear

If you have been following the blog you already know that words matter. Whether we call something caution or fear is of great significance. Most people I talk to can’t readily verbalize the difference. Accurate description leads to better actions and responses.

caution sign

“You are only afraid if you are not in harmony with yourself. People are afraid because they have never owned up to themselves.” – Hermann Hesse


Fear can be defined as an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of danger, real or imagined. It causes physiological changes and behavior changes. It is unrealistic to think that we will never feel fear. Fear is a natural thing, even instinctual at times. In other instances it can be learned. It is not uncommon for a child to develop a fear of something that the parent is afraid of.

Caution can be defined as care taken to avoid danger or mistakes. Interestingly, it comes from the Latin cavere, meaning take heed. Synonyms include watchfulness, discretion, and circumspection. Caution acknowledges the fact there there is risk. It is based on our knowledge of the world. But caution does not imply the need for continual vigilance. It is more contextual. We recognize that there is uncertainty or risk in a certain time or situation, but the recognition doesn’t cause the physiological change.

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” – Rosa Parks

What I have observed is that caution is generally the appraisal of a situation whereas fear is the appraisal of one’s ability to handle the situation. Fear implies that you have convinced yourself that you are not capable of handling a negative outcome or emotion.

Although I’m sure not everyone would agree with me, I think caution and fear are appropriate emotional reactions, but only when contextually warranted and time-limited. They are both important sources of information as we try to navigate this complex world.

“Prudence is not the same thing as caution. Caution is a helpful strategy when you’re crossing a minefield; its a disaster when you’re in a goldrush.” – John Ortberg

So what’s the purpose of all of this? The purpose is to make sure that we are making correct interpretations and responding with effective actions. It is also to encourage seeing the contextual/environmental nature of caution and fear rather than defining them as permanent personality characteristics.

“Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

The more you tell yourself that you are afraid, the more you will believe it. Eventually you will begin to act out being afraid and limiting your life and the pursuit of your values. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Fear can be present in some situations, but only for the necessity of survival. Remember, the real difference is in the attitude toward ourselves. Do we believe we can handle it or not?

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” – W. Clement Stone

“If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu

To Everything There is a Season

To Everything There is a Season. Whether that brings to mind the Biblical passage in Ecclesiastes or the song by The Byrds, those words ring particularly true to me right now. Change! I am definitely in a season of change, and as a result, so is this blog. Perhaps this is a gift from the pandemic, or possible something even more personal. Either way, I am often contemplating what I want from this current stage of my life.

The blog was originally started to help promote my business and my books but my focus is shifting. Now I think I would like to provoke contemplation, personal growth, and hopefully discussion. I plan to continue to share reviews of books, information, tapping videos, and opinions on mental health topics. I also plan to share the musings of my daily life with topics ranging from music to aging. You might even see pictures of nature’s wonders.

Change is not always comfortable for me and there may be some growing pains along the way. I’m choosing to embrace them as much as possible.

I’d love to hear from you about the topics you are most interested in as I start this new journey.

getting ready to exercise in a season of change
Here we go….

Gorilla Thumps & Bear Hugs

Gorilla Thumps & Bear Hugs by Alex Ortner is a book about tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique) written specifically for kids. The child in the story was taught tapping by her friend in order to deal with teasing at school. It would also be a great book to use with children during this COVID pandemic.

Children of all ages are experiencing tremendous changes in their routines, are isolated from many of their social activities and friends, and are watching their parents and caregivers trying to adjust to not only health fears but also financial anxiety. It is a time of stress for almost everybody.

Tapping is a technique children (and adults) can use to minimize any emotional distress that is occurring, even if lingering below the conscious level. Gorilla Thumps & Bear Hugs is a simple, fun, and engaging way to learn the process.

Check it out and get tapping (using appropriate handwashing of course.) Want to learn more about tapping? Click here.

Anxiety – A Misleading Word

I have written about this before, but I believe anxiety is a misleading word. Anxiety has turned into a catch-all label for emotions and often interferes with finding solutions. If I say I am anxious for my sister’s wedding, what does that mean? Does it suggest that I am experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, that my sister is probably marrying a serial killer, that I am nervous about finding the right words for the toast, or perhaps that I am anticipating feeling embarrassed because I don’t know how to dance and there could be dancing at the reception? When someone labels all of these things as anxiety it tells them that a) something is wrong with them and b) that they can stop trying to be more specific about their thoughts emotions, and behaviors.

image showing the ripple effect for the word anxiety.

Professionally I have found it a very difficult pattern to break. People actually seem comforted by having a label for what they are feeling that allows them to avoid going deeper. If you read my previous article, Practice Makes Perfect, you can see why this might be a problem. Continually labeling physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms as anxiety creates a brain superhighway called anxiety that then includes any indigestion, frustration, or anger that wants to hitch a ride. If instead a person who was able to engage in the introspection to determine that they feel a fluttery feeling in their chest when faced with unclear work expectations, fearing a high likelihood of guessing wrong and getting reprimanded, the situation is limited in scope and more easily treated.

I don’t want to appear to be blaming the emotionally upset person for their plight. This is a much broader societal issue that includes lazy communication skills, a preference for labels over individuality, and a victim role that is present in our society. Examples are everywhere in electronic social media.

So what can you do?

  1. Choose your words carefully. The words we use DO make a difference in how you and others think and feel. Are you eager for something? Say so. Don’t put in the word anxious. Are you feeling jittery? Say so. Are you terrified? Say so. How many words can you identify that would accurately substitude for the word anxious?
  2. Try to avoid saying “I am” anxious. Instead, try to say “I feel” or “I notice.” I feel suggests something that is time limited whereas I am suggests that it is permanent and unchangeable. These messages you are sending to yourself via thoughts and words are important.
  3. Step out of helplessness and victimization. Except in the rare circumstance, the emotions and thoughts are not happening TO YOU. You are not required to just accept whatever thought or feeling comes into your head. I want to be clear — your feelings are not wrong, but they also are not permanent. You can actively change your thoughts and engage in activities that will change your situation.

My older son, at a very early age, was able to tell his grandfather, “I not bad, it’s my ‘havior.” We all can take a lesson from this and say, “I’m not anxious, it’s just my thoughts or feelings.”

I Can’t Adult Today

There is a lot to unpack in that statement. Say it aloud, “I can’t adult today.” Lets start with I can’t. That is probably inaccurate. At least in my case, the more accurate statement would be either I choose not to or I would prefer not to.

Then, there is the word adult. What does that mean anyway? A dictionary definition is …having attained full size and strength. While that could be debated based on my height, I’m as tall and strong as I’ll probably ever be again. An alternate definition is mature. Wow! Mature can mean fully developed physically or showing the mental and emotional qualities of an adult. This is another fuzzy definition. When I consider the original phrase I can’t adult today it is the second definition that most likely applies. I interpret this to mean that I don’t want to exhibit the amount of wisdom, intellect, and emotional control I would expect from an adult.

The statement then could read…I would prefer not to make decisions, think through problems, face challenges, or regulate my emotions.

Today. The implication is that this is a time-limited problem. I might be ok doing it tomorrow, next week, or next year. This is somewhat hopeful but might be better expressed as….in this moment and under these circumstances.

Put it all together:

I choose not to make decisions, think through problems, face challenges, or regulate my emotions in this moment and under these circumstances.

This has a totally different feel to it, doesn’t it?

Time To Celebrate

I have now transitioned out of a soul-crushing ethical wasteland into a job that is fulfilling and allows me to utilize my professional skills. It is definitely time to celebrate. In less than one week I’ve lost 3 pounds, am sleeping better, and feel more relaxed than I have in 3 years. Pretty awesome results since it has happened in the midst of a pandemic.

Photo of Industrial Plant

I had been trying to embrace the adage of “bloom where you are planted” but my reality is that the muck where I had landed was not life-sustaining. I gave it my best effort for quite a while but sometimes a new garden is necessary. Even so, it was not an easy decision.

Shallow Focus of Sprout

I acknowledge that I am very blessed to have had opportunities that some people do not have in terms of employment but this concept applies to others areas of life as well. Spring seems to be a good time to take stock of my life’s garden and make decisions about what needs to be enriched, what is good just as it is, and what is so toxic that it can’t be salvaged. This includes hobbies, relatioships, spiritual activities, as well as employment. Then, once those changes are made, it is time to celebrate any improvements that have been made.

Bokeh Photography of Lights

Practice Makes Perfect

If you ever took piano lessons as a child I’m sure you heard the words, “practice makes perfect.” While I’m not a fan of the word “perfect”, the general concept that repetition improves performance is valid. There is a caveat, the repetition must be approximating the desired result, not repeating the errors.

Close-Up Photo Of Person Playing Piano

The phrase “neurons that fire together wire together” was first used by the Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb in 1949. The gist is that the more frequently you utilize a specific neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. So, if you play the same piano keys in a sequence over and over again that pattern creates somewhat of a superhighway in your brain.

Aerial Photography of Concrete Bridge

This is great if what you are practicing is something you want to keep in your brain and it serves your greater purpose. Practice makes perfect after all. But what do you think happens if you say to yourself, aloud or silently, that you are stupid, fat, anxious, or worthless? Bingo! That creates a superhighway too.

Black and White Exit Signage on Roadside

Over time, superhighways in the brain become resistant to change and you need to build off ramps. Once the off ramps are created and used frequently, the original negative superhighway crumbles or can be closed. How do you build an off ramp? You can build one by refuting the negative statement and creating a new one.

Examples:

Highway: I am stupid

Off ramp: That wasn’t my best moment but I am a smart person.

Highway: I am fat

Off ramp: I am working with my body to become more lean

Highway: I am anxious

Off ramp: Sometimes I feel nervous just like everybody else and I choose to remain confident in my ability to handle life’s challenges

Highway: I am depressed

Off ramp: My mood has been lower than I would like recently so it is time to take positive action

Highway: I am worthless

Off ramp: I am a wonderful and perfectly created child of God

It is important to use the off ramps at least as often, if not more often than you travel down the negative superhighway.

I usually recommend that you use journaling as you begin the process. There seems to be somethig beneficial about making these statements formally and seeing them in written format. Saying it aloud is also beneficial.

Remember….what you practice will grow stronger. Practice makes perfect. Choose wisely!