How to Climb a Mountain

“Take a look back … the view is spectacular,” my husband Dave suggested as I stopped in the middle of the path, sure I was about to pass out or fall backwards down the mountain. I was about a third of the way up the Bump and Grind and all I could see was the long path ahead of me.

“I can’t look now,” I sputtered. “I’ve got too far to go,” while thinking to myself that I wished I had never agreed to this … I wasn’t ready and it was too hard.  But I couldn’t really turn around now as I was deathly afraid of going down the steep side. I knew that if I got to the top I could descend on the less steep side.

I set off again on a mission to get to the top as fast as I could. And then stopped again, thinking I would pass out or fall. And then set off again … and, well, you get the picture. I did eventually get to the top and take a look down … it was spectacular and I was very proud that I had challenged myself to do this hike when I wasn’t entirely ready!

It seems to me this experience is a perfect metaphor for life. We can never be quite prepared to take on a challenge. All we can do is keep taking a step at a time (which BTW was what I kept telling myself on the way up. Just one more step, just one more step …) and eventually we will tackle that tough challenge.

But, while hiking down the gradual slope, I realized that I had missed out on a lot by my impatient, goal driven approach. I was trying to go too fast and it was taxing both my leg muscles and lung capacity too much. I also needed to give myself permission to stop occasionally, look around, enjoy what I was seeing AND celebrate the fact that I had made it that far. I really didn’t enjoy my trip up the mountain.

I see this all the time in my coaching practice. People striving for goals, trying to go too fast, not stopping to appreciate what they’ve experienced, not reflecting on what they’ve learned, or not celebrating what they’ve accomplished to that point. It robs them, just as it robbed me, of the joy in the journey.

So the next time you’re impatient to reach a goal, resist your urges and stop to take a look around. You just never know what you might discover about yourself or others.

3 Tips for Putting Down Your Armour

It seems a natural response to being hurt, facing challenges or experiencing unexpected tragedy is to respond with fear and anger and armour up. Armouring up can be anything from “From now on I copy everyone in on my emails to cover my butt.” to “I will not share anything authentic with you again.” to “I’m going to isolate myself from others.”

But research is clear about the role of optimism in resilience. While these armouring up responses are normal, it’s when they become a long term habit that our overall wellness, effectiveness and satisfaction with life can be affected.

While some people seem to be more naturally optimistic, there are times when all of us need to be intentional about it. Here are three practices I use to put down my armour:

  1. Lighten up. Lightening up means that we don’t take ourselves seriously and we put things into perspective, hopefully finding humour in situations. While that may not always be possible in extremely distressing situations, it can also mean giving yourself permission to “park the issue” even if it’s for a short time. This gives your brain a chance to get out of fight or flight. To lighten up, practice the “pause.” When you find yourself overly stressed, anxious, serious, in a rush, etc, take a deep breath, pause for 4 seconds, name what you are experiencing and then ask yourself a question to shift into more optimism. Some of my favorites are “Will this be important a year from now?” “Can I do anything about this?” “Can I invest my energy into something more important or positive?”
  2. Reframe. Reframing means that we interpret and make meaning of our experiences in a way that is optimistic. Resilience researchers followed children raised in neglect or abuse over a long period of time to see how they fared as adults. Those who did well (lived productive happy lives) did not attach the same meaning to their earlier experiences as those who continued in a cycle of neglect and abuse. The “stories” we tell ourselves about what happens to us can be even more important and crucial in determining how we do than what actually happened to us in the moment. Those children who were able to reframe their early childhood as learning experiences that helped them develop their strength and confidence did better than those who told a story of how their early childhood damaged them. Reframing also relates to how we think about things that didn’t go right for us, or failures. Resilient people are able to reframe mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn or create something different in their lives.
  3. Develop a daily ritual that facilitates connection to yourself, others, nature. Some of the things I do are to write down 3 things I appreciate or am grateful for, go for walks, review my file of thank yous from others, watch uplifting videos or read something uplifting, and send a text or email of appreciation to someone. I find that doing this helps me to lean more towards optimism than pessimism, put down my armour and connect to others in a meaningful way.

What are the strategies you use to put down your armour and develop your optimism?

This blog is the A in our PAUSE model of resilience – Active Optimism. Watch for the U in a future blog!!

In This Moment …

 In This Moment ... mindfulness learning happiness emotional intelligence

When I returned from my vacation this past September, I wasn’t able to give myself the weekend to transition as I usually do. I went from a very chilled out and quiet lake resort to downtown Vancouver in a matter of hours! As I was walking towards my hotel and witnessed two incidents of road rage while ambulances, sirens screaming, raced by, I became very aware of how anxious and grumpy I had become. Thanks to my mindfulness work with the wonderful Jivi of Winds of Change I remembered that I didn’t have to react this way, that I just needed to take one minute standing on that busy street corner and find my present center. I stood to one side of the sidewalk, took a deep breath and reminded myself that I was alive, had everything I needed and that I was just witnessing the range of human experience.

The next time you find yourself feeling anxious try saying to yourself … “In this moment” with the following prompts:

  • I am breathing and alive!
  • I observe that …
  • I notice that …
  • I feel …
  • I wonder about …
  • I appreciate …
  • I can choose to be …

There may be other prompts that work for you … but starting with “In this moment, I am …” led me to a very different experience that day!