The Circle of Death.
While I am quite certain this was the name of a drinking game I played in college, I now have a new definition for the “COD”.
I have learned to master it – and I’ll share how I did it – but first let me tell you about this electronic circular nemesis to see if you can relate.
The COD I refer to steals my peace.
It interrupts my ability to be present.
It controls my thoughts by demanding my attention.
It introduces issues at inopportune times.
Basically, the COD jacks up my flow. (To put it in, you know, scientific terms)
The circle I am referring to is what our friends at Apple innocently refer to as a “badge”.
That small red circle that perches on the upper right hand corner of each App on your device.
The number inside the Circle of Death is like a mini scale telling you exactly how stressed you should be about this particular App.
Here’s how I interpreted this scale:
Red circle with a single digit = normal levels of cortisol.
Red circle with a number >30 in the center = irritation with a side of elevated heart rate
And (heaven forbid) triple digits = immediate cause for stop, drop, and roll
I don’t remember if my Blackberry had its own version of this ‘feature’ but it’s safe to say that I have spent the better part of the last 7 years engaged in a game of whack-a-mole with the Apple badge notification before deciding that I needed to make a change.
This idea came to me on accident.
I had committed to breaking the habit of checking email/social media first thing in the morning and I had posted about it on Facebook because; accountability.
A former colleague recommended that, to help me not feel tempted to check my phone, I turn off the “Badge Notification” on some of my apps.
I assumed that I would need to call upon a small dose of herculean willpower to ignore those little red numbers while deep breathing my way through the irritation and rising blood pressure.
It had never occurred to me that there was another way.
(Spoiler alert: there’s ALWAYS another way.)
I shared this new strategy on Facebook and the overwhelming response from my peers (all, like, six of them) was horror. “But what if you MISS something!?” they asked, half terrified, half disgusted.
I read their comments (aka warnings) and mentally shrugged.
I don’t know. Didn’t seem like THAT much damage could be done.
I could always turn them back on …?
So I made the brave pilgrimage into the settings of my iPhone and disabled ALL of the notifications for everything that I deemed “extra” to a phones primary purpose. My phone and I had a “come to Jesus” conversation. I her she was allowed to alert me of phone calls and text messages because her flip-style predecessor had done this without stressing me the heck out and the world kept turning. I laid down the law that my iPhone and I were going to follow these same rules.
No more Circle of Death.
I am proud to report that I have not missed a single thing.
I am also happy to tell you that I can look at my phone any time of the day and not feel an ounce of stress. I can actually see my phones background because it’s no longer cluttered by electronic acne and I quite like it.
This is what it ALWAYS looks like:
I have made this recommendation to several people are each has offered favorable feedback.
None of the people I have suggested this to had asked me about ways to better manage their technology (not my area of expertise!) and none of them would’ve sited this as a cause of stress or anxiety – yet each one has found it a helpful strategy for feeling less anxious.
Consider that more peace could be a simple system setting away!
PEACE & LOVE
If your life experience is anything like mine you know that the opportunity and urge to compare lies latent at every turn. Every car that passes on the road, every swipe through a news feed, every semi-filled shopping cart navigating through the grocery aisle seems to be begging for an assessment. Crying out for an evaluation. And, most importantly, demanding of a final grade in the form of ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’.
While there may seem like a clear cut winner in the game of ‘whose is better’ we need to get real – this is a lose:lose scenario.
First of all – we are outrageously sloppy in these reckless comparisons.
Let’s imagine that instead of pitting my whole foods shopping cart contents against yours I am comparing two branches of a particular business and have to present this information to investors.
Oh, I know. Those are very different scenarios.
But what makes them so different?
For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the need for accuracy.
If I am just casually comparing two “objects” like your vanilla almond milk versus my organic coconut drink (or, more likely, insert: “relationships”, “journeys”, “lifestyles”) I don’t pay much attention to the accuracy of my assessment. Apparently I don’t hold myself to the same esteem as I do imaginary investors. All that’s at stake for me is my self-talk, my emotional state, my self worth… no big deal.
Can you believe how ridiculous that is? We’d never stand in a board room, unprepared, in our yoga pants and flip flops, look at a quick power point slide summarizing the profitability of two branches, shrug, point, and label one as “better”.
No way! We’d do the work.
And here is why comparisons are a nightmare – allow me to set the stage:
Hang with me in the board room for a minute. It’s empty. The presentation is not until tomorrow. Yoga pants are acceptable for approximately eighteen more hours. We have more than just a single power point slide – we have a conference table full of reports and data – everything we could ever want to know.
Branch A is making $100,000 in profit per year – Branch B is making $185,000 in profit per year – and tomorrow we will have to say something intelligent as to why that is.
Before we can call one “better”, we need to dig. We also need to level the playing field. We have to get those businesses to look as much alike as possible.
This process always reminds me of something I learned (and admittedly no longer use) pertaining to fractions. Remember when you had to find a common denominator before the fractions were even allowed in the same room as one another? Same thing. Quite literally we need to find common denominators everywhere!
I need to know if the branches are in the same market.
If not, are they in comparable markets? (if not I need to make adjustments to the data in attempt to level-set)
I need to know how they’re preforming against themselves during the same period in the prior year.
I need to know what that profit looks like broken down by month.
Is it on an incline or decline?
Where are the patterns?
What are the leading indicators? What are the lagging indicators? Are external factors impacting both branches to the same degree?
How long has each branch been operating?
And those questions are just skimming the surface.
Order a round of Venti Triple Cappuccinos – we could analyze data all night!
Now let’s go back to Whole Foods – or FaceBook – or wherever your comparison weak spots are… do you ask ANY questions to validate your “conclusions”?
Or are you busy telling yourself a story to support your careless estimations?
It is said that COMPARISON is the thief of JOY. I say #preach.
Do we apply any of the measures we take when looking at a business into the conversation when looking at something in our day to day lives? Do we assess ourselves vs. the version of ourselves we were a year ago? Do we pat ourselves on the back for our positive trends and learn from our declining trends? Do we make adjustments based on external factors? Do we ever attempt to level set!?
Here’s why you’re absolutely guaranteed to fail when comparing any aspect of yourself to another – there is literally no way to level-set human experience.
While I can apply facts, figures, percentages, formulas and equations to get those two branches into the closest state of accurate measurement, there is no way to do this for people, relationships, possessions, perceived lifestyle and/or perceived levels of ‘happiness’ because there is no one, absolute, shared reference point.
Even comparing something as trivial and low-risk as our favorite movies is arguably pointless because I have not seen all of the movies that you’ve ever seen – and vice versa. Our reference points are inherently different – in EVERY aspect of our lives.
This is why I argue that judgements are lazy.
We see something that, on the surface, appears better than the reality we know intimately.
It’s apples to oranges.
…And if it were just a waste of time that would be problem enough! However we know the effects of judgment and comparison run much deeper than efficiency. Our self-worth and self-esteem are impacted on a daily (maybe even hourly!) basis. NEEDLESSLY!
I am not suggesting we stop comparing tomorrow – that sounds like a fast track to disappointment because we’ve been playing this game our whole lives. What I’m suggesting we consider is this: How many questions do we ask before making a comparison or judgement? How much accuracy do we demand from ourselves? How much effort do we put into leveling the field?
With each new urge to judge simply consider: Am I SURE this is apples to apples?
The additional questions may slow us down to help us realize the error in our ways.
Comparison is a nightmare. Judgement is lazy. And if we demand accuracy we’d learn there’s no such thing anyway.
“We don’t know who discovered water, but we know it wasn’t the fish.” – Marshall McLuhan*
Do you have a goal or dream that you’re ignoring because you’re not sure you’re worthy of it? Have you ever considered one of your aspirations only to think “but who am I to accomplish this?”
This is your wake-up call!
That goal or dream is yours for a reason! It’s calling you to fulfill it! And the fact that you have it, the reality that it ever danced across your brain, that’s the goals way of telling you “you’re enough!” and “start moving!”
Allow me to recap the serendipitous conversation that jolted me awake to this same conclusion…
I was chatting with a girlfriend and I was telling her about my attempt at starting this blog. I was explaining how it’s been a serious challenge to come up with topics to write about.
Luckily for me she replied with the BEST. THING. EVER.
She said “I know, I’ve thought about writing a blog too, but seriously, what would I even write about? Kindness!?”
The reason this was so helpful for me was because I would never in a million years think to write about kindness – and I still don’t intend to! Don’t get me wrong, kindness is fantastic and I am a fan! I just don’t care to be the Subject Matter Expert on Kindness – but she does!
She made that “but seriously, what would I write about?” comment so authentically that it was a total ‘fish didn’t discover water’ experience. My friend was innocently projecting her natural inclination and interests onto me (and the rest of the world)! I could practically hear her thought process of “writing about kindness wouldn’t make me special – anyone could write about kindness!” #mindblown.
So I started to wonder… how often do we keep quiet because we think “well surely everyone is thinking this”?
How many blog posts go unwritten because we shrug and ask ourselves “who wouldn’t write a blog about ‘kindness’?”
Me! I wouldn’t! So, please – you write it – we need you!
I feel like this epiphany has Seth Godin written all over it. This is my favorite quote from the book “Linchpin”:
And this is a quote that I have displayed on my vision board:
And yet even as I write this I am still working through it myself. It’s not easy to discover the water as a fish – but we must keep trying!
Are you ready to take on this challenge with me?
Consider these 4 steps to get started:
- Share your goals and dreams. Authentically share the things you expect people will hear and react with either a “well, duh, me too!” or a “you really think you can do that?!”
Ok. Right. That’s probably scary. So start small. Grab a trusted friend who’s into self-development too and do the exercise together! Each come up with something you feel is a “moonshot” and something you believe “everyone” (including you) wants. Share and see what happens. My guess is that you’ll end up learning something interesting about your friend and encouraging him/her to go after what they want! I bet that they’ll hold up that same mirror for you.
- Take steps (any steps) toward your goal! I believe we grossly overestimate the competition and underestimate ourselves. I think we also miscalculate the length of time and level of pain it will take to accomplish what we want. The only way to correct these errors in judgment is to step into the arena. See the competition firsthand and throw yourself into the training regimen. Don’t overthink. Just act. Just move. Remember, the very fact that the goal is whispering in your ear is reason enough… because that same goal is not whispering in mine!
- Practice intentionally taking a step back. Practice awareness of the water. Remember that the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable. Don’t dare let that go to waste!
- Embrace abundance. We need to know that there is ‘enough to go around’ in order for this to work!
If I operate from a place of lack (i.e.: there are a finite amount of goals that can ever be accomplished/wishes granted/dreams fulfilled) then I will believe that you accomplishing your goal decreases my odds of achieving mine.
I would guess this is one of the reasons we miss those golden opportunities for encouragement so often! If I project that you have the same dreams as me (if I believe you want to blog about ‘kindness’ too) and I believe there are a finite number of dreams fulfilled, then I will be less likely to be open with you about my plans, goals, and insecurities thereby giving you no opportunity to help and encourage me (and tell me that you don’t actually want to blog about ‘kindness’… at all).
When you understand and embrace abundance you understand that someone doing the exact same thing that you hope to do – even if they’re doing it with a greater skill level than you’re currently at – only increases your opportunities to be great!
The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync didn’t steal market share from one another… they expanded the market. (Forgive that ridiculous analogy… but I do think it applies.)
There are an unlimited number of dreams that can come true.
The world has made it so damn easy for you to be remarkable.
Please, do not settle.
Step back. Look for the water. Be you. You have work to do.
PEACE & LOVE.
*I know absolutely nothing about Marshall McLuhan so I am not certain if this is the correct attribution. I googled. This is what I came up with.
Twice this week I have been asked about positive and negative thought patterns. “How do I think more positive thoughts?” “Why do I perseverate on the bad, annoying and negative things?” (BTW ‘perseverate’= her word, not mine. I thought it was an autocorrect situation until I received a follow-up text with the dictionary.com screen shot. Thank you. Always learning.)
Although this is a very broad question it is important and valid. While I think the best suggestions and recommendations on this topic can be individualized, the following is my attempt at some one-size-fits-most potential solutions. But first, some housekeeping:
Housekeeping item #1: It is so natural to have negative thoughts! Unfortunately, it’s as if our culture demands it. In my humble opinion (and this is all just that – my opinion) there is nothing wrong with you for having negative thoughts! Let me repeat: There is nothing wrong with you.
This is important to grasp this because if you’re dipping a toe into the pool of ‘maybe I want to consciously try to shift my thoughts to the positive’, things are going to get uglier before they get clearer. So make sure you’re not beating yourself up for having thoughts that do not serve your highest good. We all have them! Thinking this is a ‘problem’ will only give us an additional thought to shift later – so please, be kind to yourself!
Housekeeping item #2: Every thought holds an energy and there are only two choices – love, and fear. There is no neutral. What you perceive to be neutral is probably fear just ‘doin it’s thang’ to trick you into keeping it around.
In saying this I do not mean to suggest you’re always thinking about “romance” or “things that frighten you”. On the contrary “fear” thoughts come in the shape of: Worry, Jealousy, Lack, Anger, Bitterness, Resentment, Frustration, Stress, Anxiety, Desire, Gossip, Judgment – and so forth. Thoughts that are rooted in “love” present themselves as: Joy, Peace, Gratitude, Serenity, Service, Creativity, Courage, Tolerance, Abundance, Health, Vitality, Freedom, Oneness, Faith, Hope, etc.
Love or fear. That’s it. Keep that in mind for later.
Housekeeping item #3: BRAVO for asking the question of how to shift thoughts from negative/neutral to positive (from fear to love) because your thoughts shape the way you experience your life! So this subject has major implications and fantastic potential upside! This is work worth doing! Whatever you focus on (think about) EXPANDS and MANIFESTS – so let’s get rocking and make sure that you’re expanding, manifesting, and experiencing as much love & positivity as possible!
Before we can shift we must DISTINGUISH.
Distinction is powerful. Once you can distinguish something you are in the driver’s seat. If we want to control our thoughts we must first learn to really notice them. (I find creating a meditation or mindfulness practice the best way to equip yourself to do this – you can start with as little as 3 minutes per day and I have several posts on how to do this – but if that’s not your jam, I understand.)
To shift your thoughts you must develop enough self-disciple and self-awareness to be able to metaphorically stop a thought in its tracks, pick it up, examine it, and label it (honestly) as fear or love.
You’ll want to slip on your sleuth shoes and look for patterns. Are the negative thoughts/self-talk surrounding the same subject or subjects? Are they occurring at a particular time each day? If you’re serious about improving your state of mind I would carry a small notebook and jot down your observations. In business as in life, I am a steadfast proponent of “whatever we measure always improves.”
Once you’ve brought awareness to your patterns we can begin to try on some potential solutions.
3 Strategies to Consider for Shifting Self-Talk: Eliminate, Restructure, Override
It is possible that you’ll notice that your negative self-talk or thought patterns derive from a particular subject. If that’s the case you may want to put some serious thought into eliminating that subject matter from your life altogether.
Here’s an example from my own discovery: In developing a mindfulness practice and tuning into my thoughts I noticed that I had a lot of negative noise surrounding alcohol. If I woke up after a night of drinking my morning self-talk would be absolutely consumed with this conversation: “OK so I had two beers at that first bar… but we were there for at least two hours… so that was spaced out well… and then we had that bottle of wine at dinner which we probably split equally. How much did that bottle of wine cost? Oh and that shot. Right. Why do we ever take shots? But I think I feel fine. Right? Or am a little foggy? I wish I could tell. I really shouldn’t drink on weeknights…” This would go on for hours. Literally. Sometimes days. So finally I did the only thing I knew would stop that conversation for good – I eliminated alcohol.
I am NOT suggesting you stop drinking alcohol to produce more positive thoughts! I know plenty of people who can go to happy hour and NOT engage in this conversation with themselves the next morning. I am not one of them. All I am suggesting here is that by eliminating the subject matter of the energy draining conversation, the energy draining conversation seizes to exist.
Unfortunately, elimination may not always be possible. If your negative noise is produced by work or school (for example) and you’re not in the position to quit or make significant changes, you’ll need an alternative solution.
Chances are your negative thoughts are in one of two formats – either statements or leading questions.
I am going to take a page straight from Tony Robbins’ playbook here and suggest that if you cannot eliminate the thoughts you restructure them.
Negative statements are garbage. They are declarations that “This is the way life is. I have no control. I am a victim. I am a martyr.” Statements are a dead end. I picture your subconscious hearing them and, with a hopeless and deflated shrug, thinking ‘she wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true’. A negative declaration is like our sign to the subconscious that it’s cool to just roll over and play dead – and we can’t have that if we’re trying to build a positive life! We need our subconscious out there on the hunt for solutions on our behalf! And for this to occur we need to restructure and ask quality QUESTIONS!
Tony Robbins teaches that you only have a “problem” because you haven’t found a way to turn it into a quality question. Problems (and the negative self-talk associated with them) GO AWAY when you learn to reframe them.
“Quality” means that the question is structured without negative presuppositions. A negative declaration such as “this job totally sucks” does not get any better by reframing it as “why does this job totally suck?” – There’s a bit more heavy lifting involved.
Here are some of the questions that Tony suggests you ask:
- What’s great about this?
- What can I learn from this?
- What’s not perfect yet? (An example of a question with a positive presupposition)
- What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
- How can I make this enjoyable in the meantime?
Again, if you’re truly committed to doing the work and shifting your thoughts, I recommend pulling out that little notebook, copying down these suggested questions, and writing out as many answers to each as possible. Something powerful happens when you physically put pen to paper. It’s worth a shot!
In short: Restructure negative statements into quality questions because complaining will just bring you more stuff to complain about whereas asking the right questions will inevitably bring you SOLUTIONS.
This final recommendation requires little to no effort on your part aside from just doing it (and doing it consistently if you hope to experience results).
It is impossible to hold a fear-based thought and a love-based thought at the same time so if you recognize the time of day or circumstances that bring on your most fear-based thoughts, simply employ a system to override them. A good defense is the best offense.
Here’s another personal example: I am a morning person. I wake up 1.5-2 hours on average before I actually “have to”. Since I live alone this means I am usually awake 3-3.5 hours before I am engaging in dialogue with other humans. This also means that I expose myself to 3-3.5 hours of internal dialogue each and every morning. Luckily, through the strategies above and the one I am about to explain I have turned this time in a serious competitive advantage for myself – but it wasn’t always this way.
When I began this work for myself I noticed that the influx of my negative thoughts happened first thing in the morning – literally starting when I opened my eyes. I noticed I would start my day in a very reactive state of “What time is it? Did I sleep too late? Do I have enough time to get ready?” and that stressed-out chatter would accompany me right into the shower, shifting form to mental to-do lists and worry. Finally, my dialogue took an even nastier tone when I was doing all those girly morning things like blow-drying my hair, putting on make-up, etc. Welcome to the scene insecurity, vanity, jealousy – yuck, yuck and more yuck.
I made the life changing decision to override it all!
For me, this starts with very intentional thoughts first thing in the morning. I do not allow myself to worry about sleeping too much or too little or any of that. I wake up and firmly tell myself that “I am grateful. I have plenty of time. There is nothing to worry about.”
(Then I write in my 5MJ to further ingrain the feelings of gratitude but I’m not going to get into my entire morning routine here – remember, it’s a 2-hour ordeal.)
When it’s time to get ready I turn on my shower speaker and play a positive podcast* while I shower and get ready. (*I will include a list of my favorite podcasts at the conclusion of this post.)
This may sound simple (well, good, it is simple) but it’s been a game changer for me.
If I am feeding my mind with positive and productive information I simply do not have the time or opportunity to entertain fear-based thoughts. (OK, we can be real – can my mind slip and wander? Sure. But with positive content flowing in the background, it is so simple to course-correct. I would wager that 90% of my thoughts are positive and love-based while listening to valuable content.)
Notice where your negative thoughts congregate. Is it in the morning? On your ride to work? On your commute home? Fear-based thoughts tend to creep in when we’re alone which is an opportune time to put on valuable audio, feed your brain with productive content and start your ‘override’.
Your thoughts create your life so I believe there is no work more worthwhile than this! Distinguish, Eliminate, Restructure, Override, rinse & repeat.
PEACE, LOVE & POSITIVE THOUGHTS!
*My favorite positive podcasts are: The Tim Ferris Show, Wanderlust Speakeasy, Revisionist History, Action Catalyst Podcast, Beautiful Writers Podcast, & Smart People Podcast. When it comes to podcasts the options are endless but these are my personal faves. I have never heard any complaining or negativity on any of these shows which is what you need to adamantly avoid if you’re using a podcast for the purposes listed above!