From a perfect mental storm to resilience in 3Ps

Two weeks ago a friend invited me to join his wind-surfing class. I thought, “I loved taking regular surfing classes in California and Hawaii, and now I could add the power of the wind to harness Mother Nature’s energy. Isn’t it awesome?” So, I paid for the class in advance, borrowed surf booties, and even managed to squeeze myself in a full-body wetsuit I bought in 2004. The latter came with a bonus: I didn’t have to shave my legs. Double awesome!

The morning of the trip, however, I began looking for a way out. Do you know that nagging feeling? When I caught myself doing this, I asked: “Why not?” To which, my mind with great enthusiasm and unhelpful sophistication offered a wide menu of excuses: “Ah, it’s too hot outside; too far to drive; what if you fall and break something; it’s a four-hour class and you’ll be dead tired; your back hurts (let me check, yes, it does hurt).” Yada, yada, yada. Clearly, I was stuck in a drive-through of a “bad food for thoughts” restaurant.

Maybe I needed reassurance, a friend who would say, “It’s going to be all right, it’s gonna be fun.” But no one did, because I kept these thoughts to myself. More ruminating led me to ‘realize’ that my life was like a pulse on a hospital monitor: It keeps beeping at regular intervals (which meant that the patient is still alive) but the line is nearly flat with neither highs nor lows. “It’s all my fault that my life is not what I want. And it’d take pure magic to turn it around,” I concluded. Have you heard that on average we have 70,000 thoughts per day, and 80 freaking percent of them are negative? As I failed to be my own reassuring friend, I became the disempowering statistic.

I turned to comfort food (chocolate biscotti in my case), then I paced in my living room to break the cycle, then I turned to Facebook to get my mind numb. After a while, I stumbled on a post by Sheryl Sandberg, FB COO, about the untimely death of her husband, her grief and her ways of coping with it, and the support that she received from friends and strangers alike.  I sobbed reading it. The post and close to a million comments it generated were personal, authentic, raw. What Ms. Sandberg and other people shared gave me a different perspective. Suddenly, I remembered how resilient I have been when unpredictable and unpleasant events happened in my life. Too many to mention, but here I was on my feet again with plenty of reasons to be grateful for. Ms. Sandberg also wrote about the 3 Ps of the perfect mental storm that could be turned into the 3Ps of resilience:

  • Personalization: Accepting that not everything is our fault.
  • Permanence: While we may feel blue at this particular moment, there were times when life was good, in fact amazing, which means that we can and will feel that again.
  • Pervasiveness: Not all areas of our lives are in flux (or deep mess) at the same time. We can always find at least one thing or one person to be grateful for.

Armed with the “3Ps of resilience” perspective, my 70,001 thought was different: “I can’t solve all my big questions in one day. Maybe today isn’t the day to go wind-surfing. It’s ok. There will be tomorrow.”

Then, as if by magic, I got a text message from another friend inviting me to a pool party. So, I put on my bikini, shaved my legs, and took off.

 

 

Photo credit: CEBImagery.

 

“Change your story, change your life” or how to become a mental gardener

Apparently, the theme of last week was the stories we tell ourselves and how they affect our moods and behavior. This message came from three different sources: a post on the topic by my favorite blogger Michael Hyatt, the Oprah & Deepak 21-Day Meditation Challenge, and a long, heart-to-heart conversation with a friend. Clearly, the Universe is sending me a signal: Change your story change your life. I know by now that I don’t want to ignore its message. 

So, what’s the story I’m telling myself that might require either some tweaking or a complete 180-degree turn? How about this one:

This year has been hard on me. I had to deal with debilitating neck and shoulder pain; to go through a breakup that stirred up way too many fears and insecurities; to cope with the sadness of the death of three people I know, including a dear mentor of mine; and to dust my way out through a month-long, unplanned, and urgent kitchen renovation. I feel kind of stuck in my life. Nothing goes well or as intended. For sure, this narrative isn’t empowering; to the contrary, it makes me sad on a good day and sucks my energy dry on a bad one. To top it all, even writing for my blog, which started on such a high note and energy, seems now more of a chore. What do I have to add to other people’s busy lives? Why bother wasting their and my time? My English skills are still not perfect, and I make mistakes. Yeap, add it to a pile of things not working out. Right?

Wrong! I recall a movie I watched a long time ago. The action-packed film itself was just OK but I remember its title: “Find and Disarm.” And, that’s exactly what I intend to do with the mental chatter that turns my mind into mushy, sticky quagmire. I know who you are and what you are doing to me, and I want you to go! “Finding” the stories is easy, “disarming” them is not so much. The principle “Just Say No” works effortlessly only in advertisement. I know I need to replace these draining stories with the empowering ones. It will take some time and practice. But I want to make the first step right now. 

So, what’s my first new, carefully-crafted story? How about this one:

Writing for my blog is fun, easy, adventurous, engaging. The fact that English is not my first language doesn’t mean that it’s deficient. I can express my ideas well, thank you very much, and I love engaging others in a conversation. I was born in another country, and my different experiences will only enrich my writing, even if the phrases that I make up, such as peachy-creamy or party socks, sneak in. My upbringing in a different culture and years of cultural learning in the United States – including cultural shocks here and reverse cultural shocks back home – are unique and I can build on them. Besides, I already learned tons by starting a blog. The reality is I can’t fail. Even if I stop blogging right now (ok, after this post goes live), I already have gained experiences that I would have not acquired otherwise.

I have no idea when they might come in handy, but I know that the seeds of knowledge never go to waste. When the time is right, they will spring into action and bear a beautiful flower (like this stunning hibiscus flower that opened up this morning in my bedroom). As it is with any sort of gardening, patience and love (toward myself and others) are must skills to cultivate. But first I want to pull out all the mental weeds that choke off liveliness, juiciness, and excitement out of my life.

Is anyone out there who wants to have a mental gardener buddy? What are your mental weeds to be plucked? What do you want to grow instead?