Tag Archives: Personal Growth

Pull Yourself Out of the Blues

If you’re feeling down, what can you do? Let’s examine the story from Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods for some insight.

 Since Theo hates loud bars and doesn’t know his co-workers that well, he’s never gone out for happy hour on Fridays. But he’d like to socialize more so he decides one night to join them.

This is not looking good. The last thing he needs when he’s already feeling awkward is to plop himself down in his own personal nightmare. But he’s ignoring his own good judgment. Bad move.

Making friends naturally through projects makes sense, though. Volunteer work is ideal. Gatherings centered around hobbies and interests – photography, books, softball – would also introduce him to people like himself. If self-help or spirituality interests him, he might explore a community committed to his same world view.

 Everyone leans across the table toward each other while he sits up straight with a tight smile and fiddles with his napkin. No one notices he isn’t talking. Just as well: they’re arguing politics and their god-awful views are appalling. His face gets twitchy.

How awful. He might as well head home and resolve to find a social activity that suits him. And he should tell himself it’s not weird to dislike loud bars.

All Theo really wanted to do tonight was read his mystery novel. He creeps out, goes home and turns on some jazz and tries to read. But sixty percent of him is reading and forty percent is back at the bar, feeling stupid.

Since he can’t concentrate on his book, he might take this time to practice mindfulness. Yoga is good: since he’s preoccupied, focusing on movement and physical sensations will refresh his mind.

Is he piling on self-defeating messages? Telling himself he’s a dud and no one likes him? That he’s too serious? Author Byron Katie suggests identifying these thoughts and asking “Is this true? Is this really true?”

What else might explain this wretched evening?

  • His co-workers don’t dislike him, they just don’t know him.
  • He most certainly is not boring. He loves jazz, good mysteries, meaningful conversation.
  • He’s an introvert. They’re extroverts. Introverts are lovely people, thoughtful and sensitive to the subtle beauties of life.

(The next morning he feels depressed.) Normally he would go do his Saturday volunteer work, but instead he sits down with his mystery again. He mopes.

He’s got to put down that book. The book is his enemy right now. The book is not his friend. Even though he feels he just can’t, he must get dressed, leave the house, follow his normal routine and get around people.

If Theo decides to find some social activities that fit his personality, if he works with his thinking and gets moving, he’ll feel much better by the afternoon. Think about your own version of his story. What puts you at risk for bad moods? What new activities and interests can bring more joy? Do you have habits that drain energy and beliefs that make you feel bad? Perhaps you might take a few minutes to write about turning your own bad moods around and making changes that can even prevent them from taking root.

Readers: What changes might bring more joy to your life?

Busting Out of the Depths of Blah

How can you free yourself from a dark mood?

In “Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods” we imagined that one Friday night you suffered through a miserable Happy Hour and by Saturday morning you were in a funk. But then you started to see you were caught in an illusion. You remembered you have the power to lift yourself out.

Next step: productive action. Accomplishing something reinforces your sense of worth. It gets you out of your head and into your life. Doing a bit of housework, putting on music and dancing, or walking your dog can all shift your mood.

If at all possible, leave the house after that. Walking alone might send you back to ruminating, so if you want some exercise, you might lift weights at the gym instead.

But what if you’re working or caring for children and you can’t leave? Focus your full concentration on your task, which is a form of meditation. You might use a thesaurus to find precise words for your report. Really listening to your child can keep you out of miserable feelings.

Your mind will keep coming back to what was troubling you. Expect this. It’s not a problem. Just keep gently redirecting your attention to the business at hand.

Is your work boring? Does your mind wander even when you feel good? I faced this when I cleaned houses for a living after graduating from college. During this time I grappled with resentment and frustration about working a job I didn’t like. But tedious activities can make for dynamic meditation. A friend suggested I start focusing attention on my chores. While dusting, I started to notice how the cloth felt against a hard surface and to see the furniture change as I wiped it clean. As I washed acoustical ceiling tiles, I smelled the Lysol. This transformed not only my job but the rest of my life as well.

In the next post we will look at how problems, actions and thoughts set off bad moods and how to turn things around.

Saying Goodbye to Lousy Moods

liberation photo

Since you hate loud bars and don’t know your co-workers that well, you’ve never gone out for happy hour. But you’d like to socialize more so one Friday night you join them.

You sit down next to someone with their back to you. Everyone except you leans across the table toward each other while you sit up straight with a tight smile and fiddle with your napkin. No one notices you aren’t talking. Just as well: they’re arguing politics and their god-awful views are unbelievable.

Your face gets twitchy.

All you really wanted to do tonight was read your mystery novel, so you creep out, go home and turn on some jazz. You can’t quite be in the moment, though. Sixty percent of you trying to read but forty percent is back at the bar, feeling stupid.

The next morning you feel like your insides have been drained out and replaced with corn syrup. Your coffee tastes bitter. Normally you would go do your Saturday volunteer work, but instead you sit down with your novel again.

You mope. It seems impossible to turn your mood around.

What do you do?

Realizing that you’re caught up in distorted thoughts and feelings is the first step out.

Don’t worry that you’re repressing your emotions or invalidating yourself. Your feelings are real and telling you about real problems. But you can’t solve them if you’re drowning in muck. You must return to even keel to find answers.

Remind yourself that at the center of your being you are deeply good. This remains true no matter what you feel. You may find this meditation by Vietnamese meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh helpful:

Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.

 Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.

 Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.

 Breathing out, I feel fresh.

 Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.

 Breathing out, I feel solid.

 Breathing in, I become calm water.

 Breathing out, I reflect the sky and the mountains.

 Breathing in, I become the vastness of space.

 Breathing out, I feel infinite freedom.

You have now started to pull yourself out. In the next post we will look at how to continue feeling better.

Readers: What works for you to get out of a bad mood?

Meditation on Qualities of Mind, Heart and Body

Meditate on your mind as peace : : Your heart is peace : : Your body is peace

Meditate on your mind as wisdom : : Your heart is wisdom : : Your body is wisdom

Meditate on your mind as contentment : : Your heart is contentment : : Your body is contentment

Meditate on your mind as balance : : Your heart is balance : : Your body is balance


What if you took a day with a few other people and turned your attention to unrest we cause when we do injury to this planet? What ideas might you come up with? What small, practical steps could you, together, begin to take?

Take a moment to find peace at the center of your being, the peace beneath the turmoil. Your heart is like a stone that rests at the bottom of a stream as water gurgles above it.

Meditate for three minutes, just noticing your breath coming into and leaving your body. This will lower your cortisol level.


You made a number of wise decisions today. What were some of them?

A human resources manager described how she finds her intuitive heart. “It’s the same voice that tells me which person to hire out of all the good people who make the final cut.” How do you find your own wise inner voice?

Feel gratitude for the heart that has been beating without your deliberately thinking about it since you were in your mother’s womb.


You may wish to take stock of the many good things you’ve done this week. Write about them. Appreciate the person that accepted challenges, helped people, worked hard and skillfully.

Enjoy the ease and satisfaction you get from remembering when you did something hard, something you didn’t want to do, something that scared you. You did it anyway. You grew bigger and more robust as a result. Your spirit is happier now than it was before.

You’ve moved your body this week. Perhaps you’ve lifted weights, walked, danced, done yoga. Now consider buying vegetables of all colors, slicing and chopping them to make a meal full of delicious flavors. You know what else to use – whole grains, coconut oil, meats from farms that raise animals responsibly.


You might practice listening to different sides of issues. Talk to someone with different political beliefs: a liberal, a conservative. Hear this person with an open mind, with a decision to understand why they see things the way they do. Look for the common ground you share. You will see that this person’s story is your own story.

Listen to your heart about the tragedy of Freddie Gray. Feel your compassion for the young man whose life has been cut short. Feel your compassion for the police officers. Every human person has the intention to do what they believe is good.

Again, meditate for three minutes to bring your physical plant into harmony. It strengthens your immune system and lowers your blood pressure.

Readers: What are more ways to honor our peace, wisdom, contentment and balance?

Am I OK Enough?

Once, someone important found you lacking. Perhaps this person honestly intended to help you, not criticize you. Or maybe they were just taking something out on you. Someone further back hurt them, and they passed it along.

Now in the present, the criticisms we’ve taken to heart lack any practical value. To flourish, we need to start from a foundation of self-esteem, an awareness of our worth. We all know that. But how do we clear away the shame messages and remember that at our cores we are glorious? Whole, shining and alive?

One way is to look at ourselves, the unity of our minds, hearts and bodies, more clearly. We usually take for granted the thousands of wonderful things we are and do. If we pause and reflect, though, we may well be gratefully astounded by ourselves.

How would we get through our days were it not for our minds directing us? Minds do the big things: create systems of roads connecting all parts of a country. Enable us to walk onto airplanes and move through the air. Work out peace treaties. Think up games. And little, vital things: we check e-mail and get dressed in the morning.

Our desire to listen to people and heal ourselves and throw birthday parties springs from our hearts. Part of us feels connected to the melting polar icecaps and picks up little kids when they cry. We send money to Doctors Without Borders. We put our arms around our friends and play with our pets when we’re tired.

Our hearts and minds can move around in the world doing interesting things thanks to our bodies. Without our bodies to act, we couldn’t read books to kids. Nobody would go to aquariums and watch sharks. Fabulous brunches wouldn’t matter. Or even exist.

Think for a moment about all the amazing things our bodies do, things we never think about. Our brains coordinate the complex business of keeping us alive. Our blood carries carbon dioxide to our lungs that we breathe out and nourish plum trees with. We experience the extravagance of the sunlight on our skin because we have nerves.

How could a creature who is and does all these things be anything less than magnificent?

In the next post we’ll continue to think about these things in light of a Meditation on Four Aspects of Being. In the meantime —

Readers: How does your mind give to the world?

How has your heart spoken to you this past week?

What do you enjoy doing with your body?

The Secret to Growth

Yesterday, warmth and bright sunshine.

Today, cold and rain.

“I like this! I don’t like that!”

Everything coming and going.

Take what comes and don’t run after what goes.             

–Haju Sunim

My friend, Suzanne, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years ago. She usually does quite well, but it’s been a real challenge for her lately.

About three months ago, she started having insomnia and getting irritable, her warning signs that she’s getting sick. Over the past two months her mood swings have settled into depression. As far as her energy goes, she’s working part time right now and reads the rest of the day.

She’s lucky to have a great psychiatrist who’s working closely with her to get her medication right. But until her brain chemistry straightens out, she could remain depressed for quite some time. She just needs to wait.

So how’s she holding up with all this?

“I was pretty angry, especially since it’s been dragging on for so long. But here in the past couple weeks I’ve had a shift. I realized that this is hard, but it’s just hard. It’s not horrible. It’s just hard.

“I know I’ll be stronger on the other side of this. I’m not happy about it, but I’m ok. A couple weeks ago I was not ok. Now I am.”

What is the secret to personal growth? Acceptance. Take what comes. Don’t run after what goes.

Accepting all experience, even the unpleasant parts — that’s mindfulness. What is there to see, to learn? Are there perhaps some gifts here?

If Suzanne fights her situation, she’ll have two problems — her emotional pain and also the suffering caused by resisting. But she gets it that her illness and this current rough patch are opportunities for her growth. When she sees it that way, depression is not a bad thing.

Learning to grow through difficult times starts well before the troubles hit. Reflect today on how precious your growth is to you. Think about how helpful hard times can be. We don’t need to feel victimized by painful experiences. Emotional growth is far more valuable than being comfortable and avoiding pain. If you want to deepen your wisdom and empathy for others, you’ll know that difficulties are a good thing.

If you’re facing some kind of difficulty in your life right now, know that you’re a strong person, even if you don’t feel it. Let this period of your life show you your inner resources of wisdom, peace and balance. We all have these qualities — we just need to realize they’re there and cultivate them.

Try to see this as an opportunity to become a richer person, a more compassionate person. Let this process show you what you need to learn.

Readers: What have you learned from your difficulties? Please share in the comments.



Happiness Habits

Vegetables and fruitWhat would a happier life look like for you?

Would you be healthier? Have deeper friendships? Would you simply be content?

The decisions and actions that make up our lives rest on our habits.

We usually don’t think about our habits too much. Do yours bring you happiness? Do they create enjoyable relationships, activities, feelings, experiences? Or do they pull you down?

Thinking about our lives and decisions lets us figure out what we want. When we then base our actions on our goals, we can craft a life filled with a sense of well-being. We can create habits that move us towards joy.

Build the Foundation for Change

What do you want to take on? Start by listing some things that would make your life better. Engaging work? Financial stability? A comfortable home free from clutter?

Choose one area, and let’s think about  what small steps you can take towards your dream.

For example, say you’d like to get healthier. Perhaps you want to add more vegetables to your diet. What kinds of habits could get you there?

Eat More Vegetables

Most Americans eat far fewer than the recommended daily five to eight servings of vegetables and fruits. (Readers from other countries: do people in your culture eat more of them, and if so, what advice can you pass along to people in the United States?)

Does that sound unbearable? One serving, though, is just half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of something raw like salad. So if you start by adding one serving of vegetables a day and do that for a month, you’re already doing quite a bit better than you were.

Add another serving the next month. Before long you’re up to snuff.

It’s important to note that your goal isn’t to lose weight. You may or may not go after that goal later. Now you’re just trying to eat more vegetables. If you do, you’ll probably lose weight naturally, if that’s what you want. And for sure you’re adding a lot more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and all that good stuff to your life.

If you have an aversion to vegetables, they’ll need to taste especially good or else you probably won’t stick with this. For a few months, then, add a generous splash of olive oil, a sauce, some mayonnaise. We’re not talking about going overboard, but add enough so that you can really taste it.

If you want to move towards little or no fat with them, it’ll be easier to do this as you come to enjoy the taste of the vegetables themselves.

Enjoy Your New Habit

As you’re making changes, reflect often on how glad and proud you are. You’re doing well.

Notice how you feel physically and emotionally — it’s very reinforcing.

Creating a healthy habit can be easy. Do it very slowly, in small steps, and you’ll succeed.

Readers: What new habits have you created? What are you working on, and what’s one small step towards forming a habit?