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I turn 45 years old on August 16th.
I’m coming out of a six-year-long rainstorm in my life.
Some of my hardest days have been lived in the past six years: divorce, my wife’s cancer diagnosis, parents dying, leaving a company I helped build, and teetering on financial ruin. Just typing all that was intense.
But my life today is beautiful, and I love it. It’s not perfect—is there one life that is? But I love my life today. On the eve of my birthday, I asked myself how I got through the last six years. And not just how I got through—but why did I become better because of what I experienced?
My answer: with six truths I learned along the way. These truths helped me to grow. These truths appeared to me one at a time along my journey, like diamonds in the rain.
These truths are simple. I needed simple. I needed practical insight.
These truths helped me, and I want to share them with you:
Truth #1: Breathe In, Breathe Out
The way I would deal with conflict is to do nothing until the situation would get big, ugly, and messy—and then I’d run and hide. It was like I was trying to hold my breath as I passed a terrible stench. I needed to learn how to breathe in my moments and step into my life—not back away.
People who are experts at shutting down are novices on how to open up. Because I didn’t know how to deal with conflict, I also didn’t know how to deal with joy. I lacked the tools to show up to my moments—good and bad. I spent most of my life missing out on my life.
So now, I breathe in my moments, good and difficult, happy and challenging.
And I also breathe out.
You know those memories you can’t seem to shake? Those memories you keep reliving? Here’s how I learned to breathe those memories out of my mind.
I would intentionally recall the memories that were like thorns in my side. And when I watched the memory play out in my mind, I imagined my current self stepping into the memory to be with my younger, often scared and confused self.
I would help my younger self see the situation with a better perspective. Perspective is power, and that’s what I gave to my younger self: power. I couldn’t change what happened, but I could change. What’s done is done, but I no longer had to suffer past pain. I returned to the scene of the crime to let my younger self know he was safe and loved.
As for those memories in which I was the one at fault? Those memories led me to discover the second truth.
Truth #2: Forgive…Yourself
I think we all got the memo that forgiveness is a powerful healing instrument. But I also think many of us, myself included, forget to forgive ourselves for the stupid things we did—or think we did.
Pieces of ourselves are stuck in those moments when we screwed up, or when we blamed ourselves for someone else’s wrongdoing. Forgiving myself was the only way I could reunite with all the pieces of me that were stuck behind, believing I was not worthy enough to go forward. My work over these last six years has been to bring all the beautifully imperfect facets of myself back together.
Truth #3: See Problems as Puzzles
Quincy Jones, one of the most accomplished humans of any lifetime, was asked how he dealt with problems. Quincy said simply, “I don’t have problems. I have puzzles to solve.”
The moment I stopped bringing so much damn emotion to my “problems” was the moment my problems shrunk exponentially. I used to add fear and worry to my problems. Frank, my amazing therapist at the beginning of my six-year-long rainstorm, used to tell me that people “awfulize” problems. We take one small problem, then begin ruminating on all the other possible problems that might come as a result of the first, small problem. That’s how we get stuck.
Because of Quincy’s insight, I look at situations now as puzzles to solve, not problems. When we solve puzzles, we work with a sense of purpose, detachment, and hope. After all, puzzles are solvable. Problems, on the other hand, are often not solvable—at least it feels that way.
Truth #4: Ask if the Stressful Thought is True
I discovered Byron Katie when I was in my early 30s, but it wasn’t until I was 44 that I rediscovered her work, which is literally called “The Work.” It consists of three questions and a turnaround statement. (If you haven’t already, you should visit Katie’s site.)
I used to just assume if I believed something, it must be true. That caused me so much grief. When a stressful thought has a hold on me now, I ask if the thought is true. Then I wait for the answer. Can I really be certain, can I absolutely prove that what I am thinking is true?
I’ve learned from so many teachers. My mindfulness teacher, Peter, reminds me that when we become identified with our thoughts, we get swept away.
What I see now is that thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not real, and I can’t help the stupid things my chattering mind says. What I get to own is my relationship to my thinking. And most of the time, my thinking isn’t even worth thinking about.
Truth #5: Raise Your Standard
My life mentor, Joe, has taught me so much. The underlying thread of his wisdom is to set a new standard of what’s acceptable in every dimension of your life. When you raise the expectations of your life, you have to hold yourself accountable to meet the new, better standard. Otherwise, you’re not ready to receive the blessings.
In my early days of raising my standard, the only standard I could raise was my personal hygiene. So I devoted myself to brushing my teeth and washing my face twice a day. I figured if I could hold myself accountable for those two small things, I was in agreement with my new standard. I was in harmony with myself for those few minutes each day.
I kept raising my standards. Little by little. I declared what I wanted. And I worked every day to show up better than the day before and align what I wanted with who I am.
If I raised my standard of the kind of love I wanted in my life, I had to be more loving. If I raised my standard of the kind of friends I spent time with, I had to grow into becoming a better friend. And if I wanted more financial abundance, I had to raise the standard of value I brought to my clients.
The Final Truth: The Secret to Lasting Change
It’s simple. Be miserable for just long enough that you’d rather change than stay miserable.
And when you do change, you’ll still be miserable. Probably even more so than before. And probably for a while.
But after that?
You’ll probably feel like I do today: the change was worth it.