Today, I learned a powerful lesson at the grocery store. I was in a bit of a rush so I made my way quickly through the aisles, grabbed my four items, and headed to check out. The person in front of me had way more things than I did so I opted for self-checkout.
As I sat my items down to begin scanning, I remembered the machine I chose was the one that malfunctioned last time. It wasn’t just a simple—the cashier comes over, punches in a few numbers, swipes their badge, and you’re on your way—kind of moment. It was a complicated—the cashier comes by, can’t enter a code because the screen is frozen, holds the button down for 30 seconds to reboot the system, we wait for several minutes for it to get back online, only for it not to work, so they do it AGAIN, and it still won’t work, so I get escorted to customer service where they “re-ring” each item—kind of moment. So I looked at that machine and thought, “Oh no, not today,” gathered my items and chose another machine.
The associate working self-checkout gave me a puzzled look, so I told them, “Oh. I had problems with that one last time,” and began to scan my items on the blessed machine. And, of course, it immediately froze.
Luckily, the cashier was bagging someone’s groceries so they didn’t witness my scurry of shame back to the original devil machine. I had a hunch in that moment that it was probably just my negative expectations screwing with me. So I took a deep breath, laughed at myself, and began to scan my items. Oh course, not one issue. I was done in seconds!
Right then, I knew for sure it was just my negative expectation proving me right. I could’ve avoided having an issue at all, if I just left that one inconvenient experience in the past. Instead I brought it with me and recreated it.
I learned in that moment that often the uncomfortable cycles that repeat in our lives could possibly be avoided with positive expectations. Our thoughts are powerful and creative. It’s important that we train ourselves to focus more on what we desire than on what we fear. As we learn to leave our negative expectations behind, and set new empowering ones, we set ourselves up to win.
If you, like me, tend to worry about what can go wrong, I challenge you to start paying attention to that tendency. Envisioning the worst doesn’t serve us as much as we think. Sometimes it is the thing that draws the negative possibility. Let’s learn from my experience, and begin to envision the possibility that things will work out. Despite what we’ve experienced in the past, we can set positive expectations for the future. Let’s not cancel today’s wins expecting yesterday’s losses.
I don’t know about you, but my mind can be a very annoying, continual list of shoulds. Even right now, as I write, I hear the suggestion, “Shouldn’t it be ‘sometimes annoying’?” This is the problem.
I know a young lady who has a gift for snappy comebacks. When she receives unsolicited advice/information, her immediate response is, “But, did I ask?” (When you’re not on the receiving end, it’s actually pretty funny.)
Anywho, I was doing some deep cleaning, today—like behind the refrigerator and bookshelves level, “Ewww, what is that?” type cleaning, and the whole time my thoughts were serving me the shoulds list. “You should mop the hall first, then change the water.” “Maybe you should clean that out before donating it.” “You should….” blah blah blah. And this time, rather than get frazzled from the constant interrupting thoughts, I was just like, “But did I ask?”
I am so grateful for my awesome coach, who has been helping me pay more attention to my thoughts. Daily, I am realizing how torturous they have been and didn’t even realize it was happening.
Depending on your experience of life, your thoughts can be primarily supportive and friendly, while others (like me) endure a continual soundtrack of critiques, pessimistic what ifs, and the unending list of shoulds.
Have you ever been at home, work, or even out with friends and heard a car alarm go off, and the owner of the car seems to not know what’s going on so it just keeps honking? When a car alarm, that you can’t control is going off incessantly, you just try to keep enjoying your show, doing your work, or continue your conversation with friends. It’s super annoying but you just try to block it out and keep going with it honking in the background.
Imagine if that alarm stayed on for days…. years… or even decades. That’s what life has been like for me probably since childhood. My alarm, though, has been anxious thoughts. Until recently, I was primarily unaware of the soundtrack. And, I had no idea that those thoughts were constantly shifting my emotions. (When I focused on sad thoughts, I became sad. When I focused on worried thoughts, I became anxious, and so on.) However, now that I am paying attention to the sound, I realize how freaking annoying it is.
Paying attention to my thoughts, is like the car owner handing me the keys over and over again to turn off the alarm—better yet, it’s me realizing that it’s been my car alarm going off all along and grabbing my own keys to stop the sound. At any given moment, I get to recognize and temporarily silence the annoying sound of my unhelpful thoughts. And, today, it started with the simple question, “But, did I ask?”
I don’t know if you struggle with anxiety, or anger, or the constant replaying of a memory that was devastating. I just know for me that each time I’ve struggled with any of those, it started with a thought. And when it came to mind, I didn’t have a plan of what to do with it. Out of habit, I reacted to it the same way that felt right/reasonable at the time. I thought of my grandma who passed, and was instantly sad. I thought of my former boss cussing me out in front of customers, and I was instantly angry. Thought about my ex…. and… don’t even ask.
We are on loop with our reactions to certain thoughts. And our mind serves them up like a barista at our favorite coffee shop. (“You gonna have your usual?”) And without thought we say, “Thanks,” pay, and drink it down. However, when we begin to recognize the soundtrack (loop) of thoughts, we can choose to pause first, then react differently. (“No thanks. I’m gonna check out the menu a while.”)
A first step, is to begin to notice the thoughts that shift our moods. When we begin to pay attention to the changes in our emotions, we get better at catching our thoughts. When we suddenly feel down, we can pause and ask, “What was I just thinking?” With intentional shifts in our awareness, we begin to take control of our soundtrack. And doing that alone is so powerful, and life-shifting.
Another tool, that I am currently employing is to find a more empowering way to view the things that tend to knock me off my square. This is not always easy. Depending on the situation it can be really challenging, but it is possible.
I used to be on automatic with my reactions, but now I am getting better at pausing to think. When things don’t go as planned, I catch myself getting angry and think, “What if this is actually a good thing?” When I find myself worrying, I now think, “What if everything works out?” And I do similar things with uncomfortable memories….
I think the work here is to change the meaning of what we remember. We can make shifts from “You left me,” to “you freed me,” or from “I just wasted ten years of my life,” to “Well, now I have a decades worth of lessons to share.” I hold a strong belief that we are interconnected and that sometimes what I go through is for someone else. Meaning that the lessons I learn from my experiences can be used to support someone else. I developed that belief when I was at my lowest state. I chose to hold on to something my pastor once said, “God loves you too much to let you go through for no reason.” It really impacted me. And now, on the other side of that chapter, I get to see how my experiences back then have helped me to empower so many others…. even right now.
I said these words to a friend a few days ago…. “Whether it was a friendship (that I saw from jump was wack and I stayed a decade only for them to snake me), or a situation with an ex, I am learning to look at what I learned, what I gained, how much I’ve grown since then, etc., and it shifts the meaning of those memories.”
Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you do it the way I do it. I just want you to know that you can interrupt the soundtrack playing in your mind, if it’s not serving you. Whether you choose to yell, “Shut up!” (like Les Brown once suggested ), or mumble to yourself, “But did I ask?,” you get to regain control of the sound.
I had the privilege a few years back to speak and share my book, I’m Proud to Be Natural Me! with a pre-K class in Chicago. It was extra special that day because my daughter came with me and I used to be the teacher assistant in that classroom. I had an activity planned that I had never tried before, but I felt it was inspired.
I had my daughter write three affirmations on the dry erase board: “I love you,” “I believe in you,” and “I am proud of you.” I sat in the big wooden teacher’s chair, and the children encircled me on the rug sitting cross-legged. Then, I told them our activity.
I pulled out my hot pink, zebra print mirror with a handle and told them they each would hold the mirror and look at themselves as we all (teachers and volunteers included) said these affirmations to them!
I have never seen such an instant transformation, than as I watched each child’s face as they heard a room full of their classmates say these words to them. Some sat and smiled at themselves, while others beamed as they said the affirmations, too.
At 3, 4, and 5 years old, these children knew the value of those words. They felt an instant shift from hearing words that they knew I told the class to say. I didn’t even matter to them to know for sure that they meant it. It was one of my most powerful talks.
Imagine how powerful those words are when they come from your lips. If you don’t think they are, imagine hearing your own parent, guardian, grandparent or that coach who was hard on you saying these words. These affirmations are some of the most healing words a child can hear at any age. So many adults are still waiting to hear these words.
Don’t withhold them. Don’t only tie them to an achievement. Don’t wait ’til it’s too late. Love them for who they are. Believe in them for the potential you know is there. Be proud of the qualities you see in them that are valuable. Look beyond their imperfections and affirm them.
We’ll never get the best out of them by telling them what they’re not. We’ll only see more of what frustrates us as we continue to express our disappointment. We must positively affirm our children, and a great place to start is….
“I love you.” “I believe in you.” “I am proud of you.”
I have been working on me since at least high school. And I’m constantly finding new areas to fine tune. However, I have been approaching this “work” a bit differently, lately.
I used to have a deep belief that being unique was a bad thing. So much of my personal development work was coming from the intention, “I need to fix what’s wrong with me.” I thought if I could be like everybody else, I would be happy. For decades, I worked toward making me less… me, but it never worked.
We can look at our lives like a bowl of fruit, where each piece is a different area. When we have an unhealthy core belief, it’s like having a piece of rotten fruit in our life basket. For me, the rotten piece in my bowl was the belief that something was wrong with me because I was not like everyone else. Over time, that belief began to impact multiple areas of my life, if not all of them.
As much as I was constantly working on me, I was focused on the wrong fruit. I thought the rotten fruit in my bowl was my inability to conform and be like everyone else. So I was tossing my gifts, interests, and passions in the trash in an attempt to be more “normal.” I didn’t realize that the real spoiled fruit was my belief that who I am (multi-talented Marlene) is not who I was supposed to be.
The truth is, we are who we are. We’re not all meant to have the same skills, passions, and interests. Some people are multi-gifted, while others have one. Some are high energy, while others are super chill. Some are brilliant at science, while others are fascinated by art. If everyone was a doctor, whose music would we enjoy? If everyone was a dancer, who would be in the audience? If everyone was an entrepreneur, who’d be the employees?
We all have a purpose (or multiple). And regardless of who told us what and who we are is not enough, WE ARE ENOUGH. We don’t have to compare ourselves to others, or compete with them. We get to enjoy being us and let go of beliefs that make that feel painful. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with us… but our beliefs.
Some of our most deeply held beliefs are just lies that were told to us, and/or misinterpretations we picked up along the way. We get to recognize beliefs that do not serve us, and discard them so they can stop spoiling our lives. Everything from “I’m bad at math,” to “I’m a bad mom,” from “good guys finish last,” to “I’ll never be able to have a life like that.” These are just ideas that we tossed into our basket. We can choose today to toss in the trash.
For most of my life, I believed “I am not an artist.” But I accept that it was just a belief that I picked up from others, and I get to toss that in the trash. If you’ve seen my recent posts, you know that I have tossed that belief. I am embracing myself as an artist, even though it still feels weird to call myself one. Painting is not for other people. It’s for me, too. I enjoy it and I’m going to keep doing it. It’s really that simple.
Maybe you have some beliefs in your life basket that you need to toss…. thoughts about your intelligence, beauty, opportunities, or abilities that are keeping you from living a full life. You can choose at any moment to stop allowing those beliefs to contaminate your life. No matter where they came from, you can decide on a more empowering belief and toss that old one in the trash.