Measuring Up – The Silver Dollar City Story

This was going to be the year, I told myself. We’re gonna make last year’s trip a distant memory. We’re gonna do it bigger, badder, and longer. I was geeked up, I can’t lie.

Silver Dollar City Christmas Lights

Sorry, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Each year we make holiday trek to Branson, MO. The highlight is a visit to Silver Dollar City. 5 million Christmas lights! A wholesome family atmosphere, great food, and a dancing Christmas Tree. It’s the Holy Grail for Christmas lovers like myself.

In 2013, our trip did not go as planned. Late Friday night we started dropping like flies from a 24 hour bug we caught at a family friend’s house on Thanksgiving day. We’d planned to visit Silver Dollar City on Saturday but spent the day alternating trips to the bathroom instead.

I thought about asking for Monday off so we could stay longer. I thought about coming back the next weekend. Eventually we decided to spend a few hours at the park on Sunday, then head home in the evening. Bittersweet doesn’t describe it.

So when 2014 rolled around, I was bound and determined to make our trip the best ever. I got the entire week of Thanksgiving off from work so we could go early and cook Thanksgiving Dinner in our hotel suite. I bought 2 day tickets to Silver Dollar City so we could take our time and see everything we’d missed the day before. It was gonna be awesome!

Then, during our second day at Silver Dollar City, my wife said something that hit me right between the eyes. “I’m not feelin’ it this year,” she told me. Damn. I can’t lie – I was feeling the same way but I didn’t want to admit it. Our visit was good, don’t get me wrong. But it didn’t live up to the hype. And, to be totally honest, it wasn’t Silver Dollar City’s fault.

A few months earlier we’d taken a trip to Walt Disney World Resort. We stayed on property, visited all 4 theme parks, dined with Mickey and the gang, and had Disney take all the photos. We loved it! I was a bit skeptical at first but, by the end of the trip, I was hooked. I’m a fan and we’ll definitely go back someday.

But poor Silver Dollar City. It didn’t deserve its fate. If anything, it had gotten better than it was last year. New rides, new food, new parade! But no mouse, and that made all the difference in the world.

And that got me thinking…

Avatar Was Good But Titanic Was Better

People couldn’t wait for the The Matrix Reloaded to come out. It was good but it was no Matrix.

Guns ‘n’ Roses strung us along all those years but we were still lined up at midnight to buy Use Your Illusion 1 and 2. Both very good albums that showed the band’s musical growth. But they were no Appetite for Destruction.

Twilight? The Hunger Games? Don’t even get me started.

Why can’t every sequel be The Godfather Part II instead of The Matrix Reloaded? Poor Wachowski Brothers. Did they have any idea? Surely no one tries to do a sequel that doesn’t measure up to the original.

Imagine you’re a singer and your debut album went multi-platinum. Your follow up sold great that first week, but overall it was a disappointment. People stop you for autographs all the time but all they want to talk about is your debut – their favorite album. “Hey, my new record just dropped. Check it out,” you tell them. “Great, I’ll do that,” is their response. But they won’t. You’re a nostalgia act now.

Is Silver Dollar City our nostalgia act? What about next year? Are we going to subconsciously compare it to Disney again? Will every year’s visit be a little less special than the one before?

The Top 10 Reasons Top 10 Lists Suck

And herein lies the problem…

Our culture has a fascination with quantifying things as a way of giving them meaning. There has to be a 10 best and a 10 worst list. If version 2.0 doesn’t outsell version 1.0 it’s a failure. There’s a ‘sequels that were better’ pile and ‘sequels that didn’t live up to the hype’ pile. No wonder Harper Lee stopped after writing “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Who could possibly live up to these expectations

But we artists keep trying. Naturally my goal is to make each post better than the one before it but I know some just won’t measure up. Am I ok with that? Well it depends on how I’m measuring “better”. If my quality is not getting better, I’m not ok with it. I’m supposed to be learning, growing and living after all.

If I’m not getting more readers that’s something I can live with. Look at any good blog on the web and you’ll find a list of the publisher’s most popular posts. Some were written 5-10 years ago, others 2 months ago. It’s not easy catching lightning in a bottle. Not every post will have universal appeal.

Here’s something I can’t live with – being a slave to the whims of a society that constantly asks the question, “What have you done for me lately?” I’m the measuring stick when it comes to my work. If I’m producing quality work, growing as a writer and paying the mortgage on time every month I’m happy.

Measure Up To Your Own Standards

You’re probably not a writer if you’re reading this. This isn’t a blog for writers, it’s a blog for searchers. So how does what I’ve written above apply to you?

Falling into the comparison trap is dangerous. If you’re doing it with everything you read, watch or listen to are you really enjoying the art for what it is? If you’re comparing people are you appreciating them for who they are? If you feel valued or important because of how people are measuring you against some subjective standard are people really appreciating who you are?

We all need validation. But if we look out into the world for it, sometimes we’ll get it and sometimes we won’t. We’ll do great work that doesn’t get noticed and mediocre work that catches on for reasons we’ll never understand. Caring about people’s Top 10 lists, as they relate to you, only leads to frustration, disappointment, and ultimately a lack of fulfillment.

True validation comes from within, from knowing you’re doing what you were created to do. It comes from having high personal standards and not compromising them. It comes from understanding the principles that govern our universe and making sure your every thought and action conforms to them.

Start by appreciating Iron Man 2 without comparing it to Iron Man. And while you’re doing that, I’ll take a slow walk through the park right at dusk when all 5 million lights come on. I’ll take a deep breath of that cool November air and drink it all in. The smiling kids, the blacksmith demonstrating his craft, the line of people waiting for the Sing-A-Long Train, and the kettle corn popping. I can smell it now.

Ghosts of Holiday Meals Past

The holidays are a bittersweet time of year for me.

Not because of loved ones who have passed or gifts I never received. It’s bittersweet because I love holiday food and holiday meals but I hate what they do to me.

I love frosted sugar cookies shaped like snowmen, peppermint hot chocolate, corn bread stuffing, and pie a la mode. I love those mini pretzel twists with Hershey’s Kisses melted on top. I love White Trash. I love a good turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. I love Christmas tree shaped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!

I hate being bloated. I hate itching. (thank you gluten sensitivity) I hate the pain I get in my liver from eating too many carbs. I hate tight pants and I hate gas. I hate the feeling that everyone’s looking at me because I can’t stop grazing.

Now it’s widely accepted – even expected – that we’ll gain a few pounds during the holidays. Starting with Thanksgiving dinner, it’s a barrage of parties, Christmas cookies, and gift baskets right through Christmas Day. It’s all so good (except the fruit cake). How can we possibly resist? It only lasts a few weeks, right?

The eating lasts a few weeks. The recovery takes two or three times as long – just in time for Valentine’s Day! What a vicious cycle. It’s a cycle I’ve lived far too many times. Some days, I feel like the only way to escape it is to barricade myself inside my house. Other days, the last thing I want to do is escape. On those days, life is short and food is good. The side effects go away eventually. (Except for the biggest side effect – what I see in the mirror.)

Breaking the Chains of Old Holiday Habits

This year I finally reached the tipping point. After partaking in a holiday pancake breakfast at work, the side effects hit…hard! That was a miserable afternoon and evening. I got up Saturday morning and realized what I had to do. I had to stop, right there and then. Even though my birthday was the next day and Christmas was right around the corner, I had to put an end to it.

My wife usually bakes me a Funfetti birthday cake with Funfetti icing. (I know. I should be stripped of my man card for writing that.) It’s the most delicious cake…EVER! I so look forward to it. More so because I always forget about how I paid the price after eating it the year before. But this year I had to tell her, “Sorry if you already bought the mix and the frosting but I don’t want a Funfetti cake anymore.”

I couldn’t do it to myself, even if it was just for a day. Even if I said, for the millionth time, this would be the last. Instead I found a gluten free bakery. It was too late to order a cake so instead I grabbed a six pack of mini cupcakes. Jenny put candles in them and we went to town. They were good, too, and no leftovers!

It feels weird not to feast on the Funfetti. Definitely some cognitive dissonance kicking in. But what doesn’t feel weird is my stomach. It feels normal. I’m writing this at 10pm on a Monday night and I’m wide awake. I’d usually be in a Funfetti-induced coma right about now. Because I said no to the cake, I was able to resist the treats my colleague’s wife sent to work today. Brownies, fruit filled bars and cutouts. They looked so good. But this was a new path I’d started walking and there was no place for wheat-filled treats anymore.

The Perils of Turning Over a New Leaf

If you’ve been down the same road I have, I bet you found it exciting at the start. It’s an achievement to find healthy alternatives that taste good. You feel good and you like what you see in the mirror. But it creates a whole new set of problems. I’ve had friends experience what I’m about describe. Perhaps it’s happened to you too.

Let’s say it’s time for a holiday meal. As the dishes are passed around the table, you choose only the healthiest ones. One small helping of each and a polite “no, thank you” to dessert…

“Oh no you didn’t!”

Here come the looks. No words, just disapproving looks and sneers. You can feel the out and out disdain. If you’d broken wind, at least someone would’ve giggled. Without a single word, the message comes across loud and clear, “How offensive! Don’t you know all the effort that went into this meal? How dare you not take a little of everything and stuff yourself so full you can’t breathe!”

It’s sad, really. You’d think your friends and family would be happy to see you trying to live a healthy lifestyle and not head down a road that leads to gluttony and physical pain. Maybe they’re happy at first but then worry sets in. “It’s the holidays but it’s not the same anymore. This year he’s eating turkey with no gravy, next year he’ll be giving us a sermon on the dangers of cranberry sauce.” Sometimes people make assumptions based on their worst fears. Your courage gets overlooked when others start thinking of how change affects them.

When the Road Forks – Which Way Do You Go?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from others and my own experience is to be prepared. It’s called the road less travelled for a reason. It’s lonely and it’s long and there’s not always a familiar face waiting for you at the end. Let nothing come as a surprise and, most of all, don’t let others’ reactions cause you to regret the decisions you’ve made.

In any social group there are people who successfully march to the beat of a different drummer.  They don’t graze off the buffet until they’re stuffed.  They sip one drink the whole night while others toss back one after another. They leave when they’re ready to go, not feeling one bit compelled to close the joint down. Didn’t happen overnight. They stuck it out and eventually gained acceptance for all of the right reasons and none of the wrong ones.

How did they persevere? They figured out how to meet their emotional needs the right way. Remember those emotional needs?

Validation – importance, recognition, being valued

Security – comfort, safety, stability

Excitement – variety, risk, exhilaration

They figured out comfort doesn’t come from food, it comes from knowing you’re developing self-discipline and cherishing the only body you’ll ever have. The chef’s approval of your second helping isn’t true validation. True validation is valuing yourself enough to make the right decisions about your health. Excitement isn’t the thrill of trying everything on the buffet. It’s getting up in the morning and feeling well rested because your body was rejuvenating itself rather than processing excess waste all night.

We’re closing in on Christmas but there’s still plenty of time to decide that this year will be different from all the others. No tummy aches, no loosening your belt, and no eating Funfetti birthday cake for breakfast. That’s how your health really can be the gift that keeps on giving.

Give it a try. ‘Tis the season!

Nostalgia – For Better or Worse

A few weeks back I was folding laundry in the living room and looking for something to watch on TV.

nostalgia with journey

I happened upon a documentary on the rock band Journey. It told the story of how they found their lead singer, Arnel Pineda, and brought him to America to audition and later join the band.

I was enthralled. What a great story about following your dreams and persevering. I developed a Journey obsession that lasted nearly three weeks. I was on YouTube daily, watching Journey live performances and the updated version of their popular VH1 Behind the Music episode. (I didn’t even know they updated it!) It was ADD running wild, fueled by nostalgia.

My nostalgia was laced with a bit of sadness, as well. The story of Journey is largely one of “what might have been”. What would have happened if Steve Perry didn’t walk away in 1986? What if he had taken only a year off instead of ten? I remembered back to when I bought Journey’s Greatest Hits on CD. Doesn’t everyone own it? I bought it in college after my parents bought me a CD player for Christmas. I had the cassette already, but CD’s were a big deal back then and this one was one of my first.

Ahhhhh, college. Being out on my own and discovering there was a whole world that existed outside of Peru, NY. Making friends, learning, and preparing for the future – exciting times. But I had to get back to the real world. I had to stop obsessing about Journey and get on with writing, being a husband and a father.

It’s Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

I know what you’re thinking… “What’s the big deal? You enjoyed getting back into Journey, right? Everyone needs a little escape once-in-a-while.” I get it. But, you have to understand I’m a big procrastinator. I wrote a book about it for cryin’ out loud. I knew, deep inside where that voice of reason lives, that I was using this as a diversion. I was putting off writing, putting off growing my business, and putting off dealing with things that I needed to deal with.

Ironically enough, had I not gone off on this little Journey diversion, I wouldn’t have made the decision to dig into the concept of nostalgia. Why do we have nostalgic thoughts? What do they mean? Do they serve a greater purpose and is it a noble one?

You see, the Journey episode wasn’t the first time I’d found myself stuck in a continuous nostalgia loop. A couple months before, I started rewatching Battlestar Galactica (the reboot, not the original) while mixing in a few Star Trek movies and episodes along the way. Watching them again took me back in time to when I first watched them.

Battlestar reminded me of how cutting edge the show was back when it debuted and how much buzz it got and how disappointed I was when there was talk of moving the show to NBC but nothing ever came of it. Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan took my back to my 12th birthday party. My Dad rented a VCR (yes, he rented one) and showed the movie. Then we had cake. I don’t think my friends enjoyed it as much as I did. Oh well…

The Journey incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I knew if I could learn something about nostalgia and see if there were links between it and procrastination, I could help myself and all of you. And even if there was no link, at least I’d know what need nostalgia was fulfilling in my life and maybe figure out what else I could be doing to meet that same need.

What’s Nostalgia All About?

If you know anything about me, you know I like to define things before I start attacking them. That being said, here’s a simple definition of nostalgia.

“a sentimentality for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations”

Okay – this explains how I feel when I listen to Green Day’s “Dookie” album or Candlebox’s debut album, aptly titled “Candlebox”. It reminds of the year I lived in Pittsburgh. I had my first real management job and I was living on my own, paying my own bills, and figuring out how to be an adult. I couldn’t have picked a better city to live in. Lots of history, beautiful architecture, and hard working people. Sometimes I wish I’d never left.

Another album, “Four” by Blues Traveler, reminds me of when I lived in Erie, PA, with my aunt, before and after I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember my Dad buying me the album one weekend when he and my Mom visited us. I remember a basketball court I used to frequent when the weather was good. I remember a little bakery downtown with the best cookies I’ve ever eaten.

But when I hear a song from any of those albums, there are memories that don’t resurface…

My decision to leave my first management job and start a business in a box – a  business that lasted maybe 3 days before I realized how naive I’d been.

Almost going broke back in Erie and having to take a credit card advance to move into a new apartment in Rochester, NY when I finally found a job.

The tension between my aunt and I because I invited myself back into her home after things didn’t work out in Pittsburgh.

Hmmm…there’s some filtering going on here. Is this unique to my own experience? If history is any indication, probably not…

Nostalgia: Better Than A Pill?

Alan R. Hirsch, in his report, “Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding,” characterizes nostalgia as “a longing for a sanitized impression of the past, what in psychoanalysis is referred to as a screen memory — not a true recreation of the past, but rather a combination of many different memories, all integrated together, and in the process all negative emotions filtered out.”

So my mind is playing tricks on me? Comes as no surprise, really. Check out what else I found…

Clay Routledge, a social psychologist at North Dakota State University, who has studied nostalgia extensively over the past decade says, “When you’re nostalgic about something, there’s a little bit of a sense of loss—[the moment has] happened, it’s gone—but usually the net result is happiness,” His team’s research indicates nostalgic memories typically entail “cherished, personal moments”, such as time spent with loved ones. Those memories inspire “positive feelings of joy, high self-regard, belonging, and meaningfulness in life.”

Smells, things we see, or songs may trigger nostalgia, taking us back to memorable times in our lives. But there are other less subtle triggers – like negative feelings, such as loneliness, according to Routledge’s experiments. His team also asked study participants to read one of three news stories containing depressing, neutral or positive content. The results showed that a story about a tsunami provoked more nostalgic feelings than one about outer space or the birth of a polar bear.

So wait a minute. Our negative feelings will sometimes trigger nostalgia and when they do, the filtering of the bad stuff from our memories often leaves us feeling better? I think I see where this might be heading. Here’s the kicker…

Routledge says this about the role low self-esteem or disillusionment over life’s meaning plays in nostalgic thoughts and feelings. “People don’t just go back and recruit random memories of driving to work or paying taxes. They think about the special times. They think about the times they’ve spent with close friends or loved ones, maybe that family reunion, maybe important rituals—their wedding or graduation.”

Built-in self medication. Read this and tell me if I’m wrong… Routledge’s studies concluded that nostalgia brings comfort when we find ourselves in various negative mental states. He says, “If you’re feeling lonely, if you’re feeling like a failure, if you feel like you don’t know if your life has any purpose [or] if what you’re doing has any value, you can reach into this reservoir of nostalgic memories and comfort yourself. We see nostalgia as a psychological resource that people can dip into to conjure up the evidence that they need to assure themselves that they’re valued.”

Well I’ll be damned. I was looking for a connection to procrastination but I found something quite deeper.

Nostalgia and Emotional Needs

I’ve talked about emotional needs time and again. I’ve talked about how we meet them in a variety of ways that aren’t necessarily good for us. From what I’ve studied on the subject of nostalgia, it’s apparent nostalgia meets two of our basic emotional needs – validation and security.

We all have a need to feel important, appreciated, and valued. This is validation and if what we’re doing and how we’re living, in the present, doesn’t validate us – we look for other sources of validation which often take the form of others’ approval. We can seek others’ approval in the present through looking a certain way or having certain things or we can look back to times we felt the most loved, like the events Routledge refers to in his studies.

Nostalgia also brings comfort, which fulfills our need for security. We want to know we’re safe and taken care of. We want to know that everything is going to be ok. Dipping into the reservoir of past memories reminds us that whatever happened long ago turned out just fine. And we often alter those memories to focus only on the positive, which further comforts us and shows us that we made it through those storms.

Compared with other ways we seek validation and comfort, nostalgic thoughts appear to be quite harmless. They’re certainly better than self-aggrandizing behaviors and frivolous spending to “keep up with the Joneses”. Dave Ramsey said it best, “We buy things we can’t afford with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.” We comfort ourselves with junk food, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Given that, nostalgia sounds like a great alternative – it’s less expensive, won’t expand your waistline, give you a hangover or land you in jail.

Sounds great on the surface, but what happens when nostalgia leads to getting stuck in the past? How do you move forward when you’re constantly looking back? How do you learn to deal with your emotions and find productive ways of meeting your needs? How do you make new memories when all you’re doing is reliving your old ones?

Perhaps that’s the link the procrastination. When I look ahead I see a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time with no guarantee of success. It’s far more comfortable for me to relive a sanitized version of my past through old memories. Nostalgia is just one of ways I kill time. Recognizing it is half the battle.

Nostalgia is fun. It’s an instant pick me up, a reminder of how your identity has been shaped. The key to using it effectively is to make sure it doesn’t lead to backwards steps in your development. Use nostalgia to build your confidence by reminding you of past successes. Use nostalgia to provide comfort by reminding you of the adversity you overcame. Use nostalgia to remind you of why life is so worth living.

Don’t use nostalgia to keep you from living the life you were born to live today…

 

Check Out My Guest Post at Brazen Life

At no time in my life did I have to learn, grow and live more than when my employer reorganized its management ranks.

company reorganization

After 12 years in a leadership role, there was no longer a leadership position for me. I still had a job but I would be contributing as an individual only. Surreal is the best word I can use to describe the experience.

Months passed before I truly came to terms with the change and accepted my new role. I experienced every emotion possible during that time – especially anger, resentment, helplessness, and fear. With reorganizations becoming an everyday occurrence in the corporate world, you may find yourself thrust into the same circumstances I was. To come out the other side in a healthy frame of mind and ready for what the future holds will take some work.

To help you do the work and be better for it, I wrote a guest post for my friends at Brazen Life. Read it, save it to Evernote and make it the first thing you look at if you’re ever given the news I was…How to Handle Losing Your Job After an Abrupt Company Reorganization.

5 Steps to Stop Projection in its Tracks

I can be lazy sometimes. I procrastinate. I lose stuff occasionally.

projection

I’m hard on myself about these things. Others seem to notice and they constantly tell me not to be. I know their hearts are in the right place, but I expect a lot from myself and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, there comes a point where my self-esteem can’t take any more criticism.

Unfortunately, when I reach the point where I can’t beat myself down any more, others suffer. My son gets a lecture on the finer points of room cleaning followed by a dissertation on being responsible for the whereabouts of his sneakers. My wife and I love to talk about soda cans, end tables, and underwear. (inside joke alert) Meanwhile, I go back to my own bad habits and nothing changes except for some newly hurt feelings.

A while back I decided to end this cycle. My family didn’t deserve what they were getting and my self-esteem didn’t deserve my repeated attacks. To end the cycle, I had to give my behavior a name, try to understand it, and then figure out how to stop.

Introducing Projection – The Gift That Keeps on Taking

The name was one of the most common defense mechanisms – projection. Courtesy of lifescript.com, it’s formal definition follows…

A defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions. Psychological projection involves projecting undesirable feelings or emotions onto someone else, rather than admitting to or dealing with the unwanted feelings. 

I started picking apart the definition at “undesirable feelings or emotions.” My undesirable feelings were all related to pain and they stemmed from laziness, procrastination, and lack of responsibility. The emotions that followed from the pain?

Sadness.

Anger.

Fear.

It became clear in a hurry. These feelings and emotions were unwanted, hated even. My subconscious would do almost anything to avoid or get rid of them. No wonder I was flipping the script by looking for laziness, procrastination and a lack of responsibility in the people I spent the most time with.

With the name in hand and an understanding of why I was doing it, I needed to stop it. But there was another question to answer. Before we can end any bad habit, we have to know what need it fulfills. I looked to the 3 basic human emotional needs for an answer.

Validation – the need to feel important, valued, listened to and understood

Security – the need for comfort, safety, and to preserve the status quo

Excitement – the need for variety, risk, and adventure

There it was at the beginning – validation. When I would assert myself and have discussions with my wife and son I felt important. I felt like the leader of the family putting his foot down. I felt like I would be listened to, agreed with and apologized to.

The other one was just as clear. Excitement. Building up negative emotions inside and releasing them in someone else’s direction was how I fulfilled this need. I was risking getting into a full blown conflict with a loved one and there was a level of excitement that came with it. What would happen? How bad would feelings get hurt?

The First Steps to Stopping Projection

I knew what feelings I was trying to avoid and what needs I was meeting by projecting them onto others so now I needed to create a plan to deal with these emotions before I hurt others. It was unfair for others to suffer from my actions but it would also be unfair to myself to keep these feelings pent up inside.

As I pondered this, the first step became as clear as the nose on my face. Just as athletes study game film to know how to defend their opponents, I needed to be consciously of what situations would most often lead to projection.

Step 1 – Identify the situations that most often lead to projection.

For me, those were situations involving disorder like walking by my son’s room and seeing toys all over the place or looking in my office and seeing papers piled high on my desk. Now that I knew my hot buttons, I could raise my guard and have the best chance to stop projecting before I started.

As soon as the first step became clear to me, the second step followed. Words always begin as thoughts. What if I could catch my feelings in the thought stage and deal with them well before they formed themselves into words?

Step 2 – Upon entering high risk situations, be mindful of your thoughts.

I tend to have knee-jerk reactions to certain things. These reactions feel instinctual, like there’s no opportunity to think before acting. If you’re the same way, it’s important to practice the first two steps together. With a heightened awareness, you can slow down your mind long enough to think before you act.

Projection – I’m Callin’ You Out!

Now I can be mindful of my thoughts until the cows come home but how do I keep them from becoming words directed at others? In other words, how do I “deal” with them instead of holding them inside?

Thoughts pop in and pop out of our heads all day long. For example, a thought will pop into my head about something I need to do today and then it’s gone. The day ends and I forgot to do it. Most of the time when the thought shows up, I’m not in a position to do anything about it. Wrong place, wrong time, etc. I combatted this by using my smartphone’s calendar to remember appointments and events and Evernote to create lists of things I needed to do.

With projective thoughts there’s no need to write them down or save them for later. They can be dealt with in the moment, as soon as they appear. Here’s what this looks like…

Someone tells you they forgot to do something they’d agreed to do. They are normally very reliable but everyone has a hiccup once in a while. The thought comes into your head, “How could they do that? I was counting on them. Now what am I going to do?” Before verbalizing it, do these two things…

Step 3 – Call out your thoughts for what they are.

Say to yourself, “I have issues with following through. I’m embarrassed by them and beat myself up over them. Now I’m about to project my own issues onto someone else who doesn’t deserve to be treated that way.” That’s consciously giving projection a name and admitting what you see in someone else is actually something undesirable you see in yourself.

Step 4 – Identify the need projection would be meeting

Ask yourself, “What need would I be meeting if I lashed out at this person? Would I feel important? Would it be exciting to confront them? Would I feel more comfortable inciting a conflict because it’s what I’m used to doing in this situation?”

It’s powerful to know what emotional needs your behaviors meet. Armed with this information you can choose a number of alternatives – constructive ones instead of ones that create conflict and hurt feelings. That brings us to the final step…

Step 5 – Discover alternative behaviors that meet the same need

Let’s say projecting onto someone meets your need for validation. What else could you do that validates you but doesn’t create unnecessary conflict or hurt feelings? How about forgiveness? The inner validation from forgiving and moving on is powerful and life changing. If projecting excites you, what else would be just as exciting? Problem solving? What’s more exciting than finding a creative way to turn a negative into a positive?

If you’re thinking, “That’s a lot of steps to go through while I’m in the middle of the situation,” I understand. The first couple of times you apply these steps may be a little clunky. Give yourself permission to struggle with it at first. With practice, going through the steps will become an automatic response.

Projection hurts the ones we care about and takes accountability away from where it should lie, with us. We can be responsible for our actions and committed to growth and improvement without beating ourselves up. Use these steps to keep yourself from projecting and tell me how they’re working out in the comments below.

 

Are You Living Someone Else’s American Dream?

Think back to high school, maybe earlier. Remember your dreams? What did you want to be when you grew up?

The American Dream

How’d it turn out? Did you turn your hobby into your career?

Did you make your dreams come true?

 

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.


– Steve Jobs

 

Welcome to Your American Dream

The noise of others’ opinions – indeed. I sarcastically refer to them as the “voices of reason”. Could have been a parent, teacher, counselor, or even an older sibling sitting you down and showing you the road to success and fulfillment in life. For me, it was my 10th grade social studies teacher telling me, “You don’t want be to a teacher.”

No, you can’t do “A”. How can you support a family doing “A”? You want to major in “B”? What kind of job can you get with a degree in “B”? You need to choose a major like “C” so you can make good living. Study hard, keep your GPA up and get noticed in college. Once you land that first job, do whatever it takes to climb the ladder. You’ll have plenty of time later to settle down and start a family. When the time comes, find a good woman and marry her. Buy that big house in the suburbs and start a family.

Ahhhhh yes, “The American Dream.”

On the surface, it doesn’t sound too bad. It’s secure, stable and, dare I say, iconic. Haven’t you always wanted a corner office with your name on the door? The perfectly manicured lawn? The respect and admiration of everyone you meet?

When The American Dream Isn’t Enough

I had those visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. I was on that path – earning promotions, making a name for myself and settling in to the suburban lifestyle. But one day, getting up and going to work wasn’t that exciting anymore. It got harder and harder to drag myself out of bed every morning. Those days of being the first into the office and the last to leave were a distant memory.

Sound familiar?

Is the beer or two you have when you get home now a six pack? When’s the last time you hit the gym? Is your waist expanding at the same rate your attention span is shrinking? How many nights a week do you sit in your lounge chair watching the game on your big screen TV?

The foreign luxury sedan was cool, but it got boring after awhile. The Corvette, now that’s more like it! Maybe the 4X4 with the running boards, tonneau cover and leather everywhere – I can hear your Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor grunts of approval. Haven’t you always wanted a Harley? Nothing like cruising down the open road. No, I got it. Two words – man cave. Every guy needs one.

Do the toys make it easier to show up every morning?

Didn’t think so. A vacation sounds nice. Maybe you’ll take two this year. You’ve got quite a bit of time saved up. A golf vacation with the boys sounds good. Do it in Vegas, kill two birds with one stone. For the family, there’s that Mexican resort your wife has always wanted to visit. Drink in your hand, toes in the sand. Now that’s livin’!

Or is it?

The Truth About The American Dream

Admit it, the toys don’t help. Neither do the vacations. Work is drudgery. A means to an end. Hasn’t felt like a career in years. It’s a J-O-B. Office politics, reorganizations every three years, and corporate BS. What else is new? Do you ask yourself over and over again – where did the passion go?

That’s the question I asked myself a few years ago. I had a loving wife, an adorable son, a nice house, reliable cars to drive, a flat screen TV in my basement and a good paying job. What more could I possibly want?

To be myself.

See, I bought into the “American Dream” just like so many others. I graduated 3rd in my high school class, got a scholarship to college, graduated summa cum laude with a business degree and headed off into the world of work. I bounced around a little then caught on with a good company and the rest is history. Promotions, relocations, new opportunities, and eventually settling down in the place I call home.

Charmed life, right?

Then why was I suffering? Why was I coming home from work every day mentally spent?  Why was I searching the fridge or the pantry for something to eat as soon as I walked through the door every night? Why did my wife comment one day, “You don’t seem to get much joy out of anything anymore.”

One word…passion.

In the beginning, I was passionate about the chase, the climb, the challenge of building a career. What I didn’t see was that I wasn’t passionate about the work itself. And even when I did start to see it, I denied it. I soldiered on because of the stability, the certainty, and the responsibility of taking care of my family.

There was always something else out there. The thing I should have been doing all along. And every day that passed without me doing it was one day closer to the day when time would run out.

Dream a New Dream                    

Sports cars, motorcycles, and fancy vacations are exciting for a little while. But when the novelty wears off, you’re still left with a career that pays the bills but doesn’t set your soul on fire. It hurts deep down inside and the beer, popcorn and YouTube only numbs the pain. It always comes back until you fix the problem at its source.

No – don’t walk into work today and quit. The mortgage still needs to get paid every month.

Right now, make a decision. Decide what you value more – the safety and comfort of the status quo or the promise of what life can be like when your passion and your career are in perfect alignment. Take the first step even if it’s in the wrong direction. The course will correct itself as long as you keep moving.

This is not my first website and it may not be my last. But I’m still going and not stopping – ever.

[reminder]What would you be doing if you weren’t working in your current field?[/reminder]

Do This and The Pain of Rejection Will Disappear

I did all that work for nothing?

Ever feel that way after a failure? Maybe you prepared really hard for a job interview but didn’t get it. Perhaps you sacrificed nights and weekends for a month preparing a proposal that was eventually turned down. Were you gun shy for a while after? Did you pack it in for good? I hear living under a rock is coming back into style.

the pain of rejection
By: slidercleo

Nah, I didn’t mean it. It hurts – I get it. I’ve lived it. Woulda bought the t-shirt but my credit card got declined. (oooooh) It feels like someone’s telling you you’re not good enough. Not your work, not your experiences…but you. Doesn’t matter what reasons they give or how genuine they sound giving them. It still feels like rejection and the pain of rejection is real.

People develop some interesting rationalizations from experiences like this. Like this story from many years ago…

The Pain of Rejection Makes Stupid Stuff Sound Smart

It was my very last retail management job (although I didn’t know this at the time). I was an Operations Manager in a big box sporting goods store and one of the departments I supervised was footwear. The department manager was preparing to designate a lead associate, essentially her right hand.  Our plan was let our full time associates know this was coming, then sit back and watch the cream rise to the top.

There were a couple promising candidates, one of them a gentleman we’d just hired named Ed. He had retail management experience and seemed like a bright fellow so I pulled him aside one day to let him know about the opportunity. I thought he’d jump at a chance to get back in the game. During my conversation with Ed, I could tell he was unimpressed by the opportunity – maybe a little jaded, too. Then he blew me away with what he said next.

He told me that if I gave him the bump now, he’d show me he was deserving afterwards.

After I discreetly picked my jaw up off the floor I said something like this, “Sorry Ed, that’s now how it works around here. Promotions are earned, not given.” The conversation ended shortly after and I walked away shaking my head. Granted I was a young manager, but I’d never had an employee conversation quite like that. A couple weeks later, we promoted someone who stepped it up and proved they could handle the additional responsibility. Soon after, Ed moved on and we didn’t miss a beat. Wonder if he’s still looking for that promotion on a silver platter?

At the time, I wrote it off as someone trying to get something for nothing. But after I took some time to think about it from Ed’s perspective, I understood what might have been going through his head. What if Ed had some bad experiences at past jobs? Maybe he’d been in this spot before, as the guy who’d stepped up but didn’t get the nod. Maybe an old boss, or bosses, made him some promises and later went back on them. Stings…

Who knows, maybe Ed decided he wasn’t going to be put in that situation again because he couldn’t bear the pain of rejection. He looked at the hard work as a waste of time because he’d probably get screwed over again. He didn’t see the value in what he’d learn and the reputation he’d make for himself by throwing his hat into the ring and fighting the good fight. Ed convinced himself that asking for the job before he’d proven his mettle was perfectly reasonable. And when I said no, he could blame me and our company for not recognizing his talent and experience. He walked away thinking he was justified and we were the unreasonable ones. Now that’s how you avoid the pain of rejection.

The pain of rejection really does make stupid stuff sound smart. To avoid it, we will convince ourselves of just about anything. We’ll say and do things that are completely the opposite of the principles that make the world go ’round. We’ll give up and hide in the closet because it’s safe. Forget “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” We’ll tell ourselves nothing gained is ok so long as nothing’s lost either.

Put the Pain of Rejection in its Place

Are you stuck in this cycle right now?

Do you want out?

Start doing this one thing right now. Value the journey, forget about the destination. It looks like this…

“I didn’t get the job, but what did I learn that will help me in the next interview?”

“She doesn’t want to go out with me, but somewhere there’s someone who does. I’m gonna have a blast looking for her.”

“That proposal got shot down, but now I know what the boss wants. Let him try to shoot me down next time!”

Value the journey, forget about the destination. Everybody’s destination is the same anyway. We all die in the end. Do you want to die having never really lived?

[reminder]What stupid things has the pain of rejection made you do?[/reminder]

 

 

 

The Power of Rationalization

We can make ourselves believe anything.

rationalization on the fraud triangle
By: Chantal Pare

2 + 2 = 5.

There are five lights. (Sorry, only Trekkers will get that one.)

Granted the responses above are the result of extreme circumstances but the concept is still the same. It’s called rationalization, defined by psychology.about.com as “a defense mechanism that involves explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a rational or logical manner, avoiding the true reasons for the behavior.” Changingminds.org goes onto say, “We not only rationalize actions and things we have done, we also find reason for our beliefs, models, values and other inner structures and thoughts. These systems are often implied in rationalization statements.”

After a trip and fall the rationalization is, “I meant to do that.”

After we lose a job opportunity we say, “I didn’t want that job anyway.”

Our team loses the big one and it’s, “Those refs cost us the game.”

We feel better when we use those rationalizations, right? Just for a little bit…maybe. Keeps us from getting down on ourselves. Saves face. Or so we think. Laura Freberg wrote, “Recognizing your flaws and your negative behaviors can lead to an overwhelming sense of guilt while challenging self-esteem.” Rationalizations are easy, at first. A little too easy. Here are some of my best…

“One bite isn’t a big deal.”

“I’m just retaining water.”

“I just don’t have the time.”

Don’t have the time, huh? Don’t have the time to do what? The time to be the father my son deserves. The time to be the partner, friend and lover my wife needs me to be. The time to write regularly on this blog. The time to build a business and a legacy.

Challenging Rationalizations

This is how I used to think. This is how I used to rationalize. Then I challenged myself on all my rationalizations. And do you know what I discovered?

I have plenty of time.

I have time to sleep in.

I have  time to watch hours of TV.

I have time to surf the internet until I get bored of it eventually.

Amazing! Gobs and gobs of time. So where was this rationalization coming from? Rejection. I was writing, but no one was seeing it. No one was commenting on it. What was I doing it for? Why should I bother if no one ever reads it?

Bang! That’s the real rationalization…the one under the surface. The root cause. The one I really needed to challenge…

Do I write to be read or do I write because I love the craft?

I was convicted. I was writing to get the affirmation, the recognition, and the validation. Wrong reasons, totally wrong. In order to overcome this rationalization, I needed to write for me and me alone. Jeff Goins was right.

So here I am. Thinking about the time I have and making better decisions. Do I consume or create? Do I take in other peoples’ ideas and impressions of the world or express my own? Now I’m writing for the enjoyment I get from expressing myself. I’m writing to see where the story goes once I start telling it. I’m writing to see the beautiful direction God leads me in when I use the greatest gift he’s given me.  Truth is I have lots of time. Plenty. More than I could possibly use.

There’s nothing wrong with leisure. It’s necessary for proper stress management. The mind needs to switch off every once in a while. But now I make sure I write first, relax second. Writing is my calling. There’s no good reason not to do it as often as I can.

[reminder]What rationalizations do you use to avoid pursuing your dreams or using your God given talents?[/reminder]

 

 4 Reasons Not to Have a Cheat Day

In 2009 and 10 I lost close to 85 pounds. I started with the Body for Life program and incorporated other things I learned along the way. One of the keys to my success was a weekly “Cheat Day”. Every Saturday I would eat whatever I wanted, no limits and no guilt. The Cheat Day worked well because it gave me something to shoot for. I could bust my butt for 6 days then take it easy and enjoy all the foods I missed for a day.

cheat day donuts galore
By: Eremita

As I got healthier, I started to have problems with my cheat day. I’d become more sensitive to sugar, dairy and gluten and since most of my cheat day dalliances contained those ingredients I spent my cheat days bloated, itchy, and lethargic. Eventually, I did away with the cheat day altogether and below are 4 reasons why you should too.

  1. The Starvation Mode Myth

I have to admit one of the reasons I incorporated a cheat day into my weight loss plan was the starvation mode myth. As I learned it, starvation mode results from eating small amounts of calories over a sustained period of time. The body reduces metabolism significantly and holds onto fat reserves, resulting in the burning of muscle tissue instead of fat to provide energy.

Don’t get me wrong, there is such a thing as starvation mode but it only occurs under certain circumstances that very few of us will ever face. The U.S. military has done experiments with this and only a small percentage of the soldiers in the experiment went into starvation mode

  1. Unleash The Cravings!

In the beginning I had some legendary cheat days. I used to start at the stroke of midnight on Saturday by making a visit to Wendy’s, Burger King or Sonic for a double cheeseburger and fries. The following morning it was donuts galore. Then I’d lose control and eventually I was scouring the cupboards for whatever junk food I could find. Pretzels, sugary cereal, and peanut butter stood no chance against my appetite.

That first cheat food of the morning, usually sugary, set off a chain reaction. My insulin level spiked, then dropped rapidly and I was powerless against the cravings. By early evening, I was worn out. I’d usually fall asleep early because my body needed all the energy it could get just to digest all the crap I’d poured into it.

The next day was none too pleasant. Bloating, gas, and lethargy characterized my Sunday. Sometimes I’d be constipated and other times I’d have diarrhea. It would take all day Sunday and sometimes a good bit of Monday to get back to feeling normal.

  1. Imminent Danger for Celiacs and NCGS sufferers

If you have a peanut allergy, you can’t have a peanut butter sandwich on Saturday and expect everything to be ok on Sunday. You may not live to see Sunday. Although Celiac Disease is not immediately life threatening, the symptoms  – like weakness, gas and bloating – can appear quickly after ingesting gluten and they are none too pleasant.

Non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is similar to celiac disease but produces extraintestinal  symptoms like foggy mind, joint pain and numbness in the extremities versus the gastrointestinal symptoms of celiac disease. Gluten consumption can produce these symptoms within hours. Is getting sick worth that piece of cake?

  1. Foods that Wreak Havoc on the Healthy

Cheat days are all about the consumption of junk food. The more we learn about the contents of our favorite junk foods, the more we discover the lasting effects their consumption has on our bodies. For example, research is now starting to validate the addictive power of sugar that I’ve experienced for years and alluded to above.

Gluten is not just a concern for those suffering from celiac disease and NCGS. A growing body of evidence supports gluten sensitivity is quite common among the general population and has harmful effects on those who don’t suffer from celiac disease. I’m living proof of this.

Then there’s Trans fats and vegetable oils, ingredients quite common in processed junk foods. Trans fats increase bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol and increase abdominal fat. Vegetable oils contain Omega-6 fatty acids which must maintain a balance with Omega-3 fatty acids or inflammation and other health problems result.

The Bottom Line on Cheat Days

Sugar, gluten and unhealthy fats are the key ingredients in most of the junk food consumed on a cheat day. Easy to see why they’re called “junk” foods.  I hear you, “It’s just one day. How much damage can be done?”  I operated under that rationale for years. Now, taking a cheat day is more trouble than it’s worth. My advice to you, 86 it altogether. You’ll find that as time goes on your taste buds will adjust to healthy foods and they’ll actually taste better than they did when you started eating them. Sooner or later, you’ll lose your desire to cheat altogether. Sounds weird and I didn’t believe it until I experienced it myself. Now there’s no turning back.

Amen!

[reminder]I want to hear about your experiences with cheat days. Do you take them or have you sworn them off?[/reminder]

Healthy Eating Challenges at McDonald’s

Healthy eating is tough. On my journey to a healthy lifestyle I’ve experienced my share of challenges.

healthy eating berries and green leafy vegetables
By: Michael

I have my derailers – those food situations that don’t seem to have a healthy way out, other than starvation. I’ve chosen the “lesser of two evils” many times only to discover there was an even better solution that never came to mind. I’m happy to say that recently I’ve successfully navigated out of situations that would have led me down a path of compromise in the past.

Here’s a great example of keeping my commitment to healthy eating in a less than ideal situation…

One morning, I got up at 5:45, did my morning stretches then hit the shower so I could attend morning Mass at 6:45. Breakfast before Mass would not be an option since we Catholics abstain from food and drink for an hour before attending Mass. After Mass I would have about 15-20 minutes to spare before hitting the highway for work at 8. Where was I going to find a breakfast with no dairy or grain in it with so little time?

McDonald’s of course!

No, really. Seriously. Why are you laughing? Stop!

Anyway, I jumped into my car after Mass and pulled up McDonald’s on my smartphone. Big Breakfast…ok. What’s in it? Eggs, sausage, biscuit and hash browns. Perfect! Toss the potatoes and bread and I’m good. They even had a calorie breakdown on their site. 740 calories for the whole meal with 1560g of sodium and 51g of carbs. That’s a bit much. But their site allows me to customize my meal and recalculate the calories. I unchecked the hash browns and biscuit. 340 calories, much better. A little high on the sodium and fat but not bad for being in a pinch.

I’m there!

Overcoming Past Healthy Eating Failures

Now I’ve tried this strategy before and not had much luck. Like the day I decided to eat the burger and skip the fries. “Oh, but they look so good – maybe I’ll have one. Ok, maybe another.” You know the rest…

And then there was the day I took half of the bagel off my bagel sandwich. Cuts down the carbs big time. “Man that bagel was good. I’ll just take a small bite of the half I set aside.” Ridiculous…

Could I turn over a new leaf with this Big Breakfast?

Yes! Yes! Yes! (Shout out to the WWE fans in the house.)

The bread and taters went back in the bag and into the back seat. Out of sight, out of mind. Not quite…

Out of sight, yes. Out of smell, hardly. It was touch and go for a minute. BUT I DID IT! The hash browns and biscuit never saw the light of day. They went into the first garbage can I could find.

Who knew a Mickey D’s breakfast could help keep my healthy eating plan on track. But I digress…the point is not to start making fast food a staple of your diet. My message is to think outside the box when you find yourself in these potentially diet-busting situations. There are always alternatives. It’s ok to toss out foods that aren’t healthy. It’s ok to ask for modifications when you’re dine in a restaurant. It might feel weird the first time but it’s ok. It’s your meal.

[reminder]What healthy eating dilemmas have you faced and how have you navigated through them?[/reminder]