Friday, March 15, 2013

Letting It All Hang Out

A weekend of decadence is upon us. This is a time when nearly everyone – Irish or not – OU Bobcat or not (hey, St. Pats in the Flats, what up!!) March Madness fan or not, tends to mutha eff’ing TIE IT ON. Tying it on once in awhile rules. In fact, I recommend it. Life can’t be a constant state of minding your p’s and q’s. Get crazy. Let your hair down. Hell, make out with a stranger or five. BUT… if you’re going to do this, then do it without bullshit regrets and beating yourself up come Monday. Do it. Mean it. Enjoy it. Get it out of your system. NEXT.

I had a friend years ago that would continuously beat herself up for decisions she willingly, consciously (okay, maybe sometimes they weren’t totally conscious) made, to “live it up and cut loose.” It got to the point where I’d ask her before she made these decisions, “okay, have at it, but are you going to be able to look at this with no regrets come Monday? If so, rock it. If not, perhaps it’s not the right decision for you.”
To that very point: this weekend, and any and every other weekend or weekday for that matter, I want to give you permission to say yes or no to whatever presents itself to you with free reign, using two gut check rules first:
  1. Will I feel good about this tomorrow?
  2. Will this opportunity present itself to me again or is this a “once in a lifetime?”
Now, once you’ve asked yourself question 1, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do something just because you realize that you won’t feel good about it tomorrow. Case in point, I drank a bottle of champagne on my birthday chased with Fireball whisky knowing full well I would NOT feel good about it the next day. However, asking ourselves this first question allows us to begin changing our habits by becoming cognizant of our behavior. And, over time, realizing what is and is not working for us.
Far too often we just “do” or “act” out of habit. It’s St. Paddy’s Day so I’m going to go get wasted and chase it down with a Panini and a cupcake (or wait, is that just my old patterns?) because it’s what we’ve always done. But here’s the thing, most of us don’t want to just be who we’ve always been. We’ve got goals, dreams, things we want to change and kick ass at. And, let me tell you what I know, if you do what you’ve always done you will BE who you’ve always been, seeing the results (or lack thereof) you have always had (or not had).
As for question 2, ask yourself this question when evaluating the decision, options, choices, etc. in front of you after asking yourself question 1, and here’s why: very often we look at an indulgence or an opportunity to overdo it with our “everyone is doing it” blinders on. When we think or feel that “everyone else is doing this, I should be allowed to, too,” we’re not really acting in accordance with our own wants and needs. Again, we are acting habitually and without being totally present.
A great gal pal and I sat down for coffee a few months ago and she was explaining to me how she felt she had finally gotten her relationship with food under control and had found some thinking patterns that helped her. One of them resonated with me so loudly and has become a piece of advice I pass on to others, she said: “I tell myself that the food isn’t ‘calling to me,’ I’m consciously making the choice to go to it. When I realize that, I realize I have the power and it takes the power away from whatever thing it was I wanted to unnecessarily consume.”

Now you can switch out “food” with just about any other vice, but the point is, when you realize you have the power to choose, it’s just that: powerful. And that's what you become: more empowered. No longer do you just have to act the way you have in the past or “cave” to some impulse. However, there’s a part two, to this point: when you ask yourself whether or not the opportunity or indulgence in front of you is a “once in a lifetime” or, if it’s something that will be around again, it makes you realize you don’t always need to give in to whatever urge you are feeling.
Let me give you another real life example. I came home last night after working a jam packed 18 hour day. I was ravenous. But it was also midnight and I know how counterproductive to my overall goals, chowing down at that hour would be. I walked in the house resolved that I wasn’t going to eat at that hour. And then… there they were: two golden, chocolate chip cookies plump with great, big chocolate chunks gazing longingly at me from the kitchen counter. Almost immediately I went to tear open that Ziploc baggy like a rabid animal. But, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I remembered a little mantra I use sometimes when I’m lacking discipline: “will (insert indulgence here: chocolate chip cookies in this case) be around tomorrow? Will I have the opportunity in this lifetime to enjoy them again?”

When I deploy this little trick it reminds me that all the tasty treats and vices I crave so dearly, are not just going to up and vanish and never be available to me again. Once again, this allows me to take power of the situation. Basically the thought goes like this: “hey Shelley! Donuts are still in fact, going to be around for the next 50 years, don’t sweat it, you’ll get to have one at some point!”

Realizing whatever it is that you want at that moment isn’t going to vanish from the face of the earth forever, it makes you much more aware and you can actually decide whether it’s really a time you want to indulge that craving or if you’re in full throttle impulse/reactive mode.

All this said, I have been a hedonist almost all of my life. I do what I want to (for the most part), when I want to, with whom I want to. And I can honestly say, I haven’t really ever felt bad about that. It’s my life, I’m living it the way I want to and that works for me. Sometimes I haven’t loved all the decisions I’ve made, but hey they’re mine and I willingly made them. So, I am mighty fine with chalking it up and moving on.
However, as I work with more and more people, what I’m coming to realize is that the “going off the rails and doing whatever I want” types of weekends/moments, are not something very many of us can live with guilt free. And actually, most people feel like shit the very next day (whether physically, emotionally or worst of all, on both fronts) and wish they hadn’t gone as far as they had in their revelry.
So, if you happen to be one of these folks, I will leave you with this: ask yourself those two questions this weekend when setting your parameters for your debauchery. Once you’ve made conscious choices (versus operating on autopilot), then I say go for it – whether that’s falling face first in to Irish Car Bombs and corned beef all day or treating yourself to a hike outdoors and an early bed time.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Shelley on Commitment...

Throughout my life, I have always thought of myself as something of a commitment-phobe. You know, a "like to leave my options open," kind of gal. And I'm not just talking about my relationships with the fellas, this goes for jobs, cities I've lived in, hair colors, and most definitely paint choices. I'm notorious for repainting the same room four times in a row because something just wasn't quite right. Now, don't get me wrong, I am a serial monogamist. I know how to be in it. I know how to stay faithful. I got that part down.(Of note: Cleveland I have NEVER cheated on you. Not even when Chicago showered me with extravagant gifts or Austin flashed it's pearly whites and hot bod at me). What I hadn't quite figured out up until recently, was how to first, choose wisely and then take that leap of faith and quit wondering what or who is around the next corner.

Lately, as I talk to more and more people, I feel like this topic of commitment is rearing its head more than a desperate bridesmaid elbowing for the bouquet. It seems there's some kind of a tipping point buzzing right now. A precipice of change that many are teetering right on the brink of. To truly commit and do something all the way or, to pump the brakes and keep it casual.

As I type this, today is my one year anniversary with my dude. Far and away, our duo has been the best thing I've done in the past 365. The guy is the real deal and he somehow manages to put up with me with not only a smile on his face, but the patience of a saint. Whoever I did some favors for in a past life, sexual or otherwise, it was totally worth it. I digress. Celebrating this milestone personally, and all this buzz about commitment around me, I wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned about commitment and the perks of saying yes to one at the expense of many.

Freedom at last! I'm not going to waste your time, let's just cut right to the good stuff - the biggest shocker I've found as I learn to embrace commitment is this: it is mother eff'ing liberating. Whoomp there it is. Once you truly decide to go all in on something, someone, some decision, you clear up all of that head space, pain, waffling, indecision, etc. to now let yourself go forward and make progress. Committing - and truly meaning it - is the equivalent of giving all of the "what if's? coulda's, woulda's and shoulda's" that full 2 tablespoon dosage of NyQuil. Those bad boys are put to bed.

I remember reading that human beings can really only process so many choices before we become overwhelmed. At a certain point, being presented with more options only serves to stress us out. There was some pretty rad research done - using the cereal aisle and the never-ending array of choices - that illuminated this finding. If you are constantly perusing the options and never choosing or you're constantly buying one box, tossing it after a bowl and buying another, you're either going to end up starving or go broke with a pantry full of halfsy boxes.

When you decide to quit dipping your toe in the water and to jump on in, it is scary as hell but it is also freeing. If you're anything like me, and you're prone to over-analyzing, there is magic in committing because it renders your "mull this over a million different ways" button, paralyzed. No doubt, there's a bit of an "oh shit, did I just do that?" moment. But the beauty of it is that now you can make progress and quit spinning your wheels. I often remind myself to stay focused on progress and not motion. Motion is running around like a chicken with its head cut off but not ever getting anywhere. Progress on the other hand is motion with purpose. You get somewhere. And in order to get somewhere, you've got to commit to going there.

For some people, it's the making of the decision that is the toughest part. Once they've made up their mind, they are like a dog with a bone and they are full throttle at getting after it. For others, they can commit, but it's the follow through that trips them up. Think celebrity marriages: these people aren't afraid to go all in, they just can't go the distance. Here's the thing...

Commitment requires loyalty. As I was surfing for some inspirational quotes this week I came across this gem: "commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you."

Bam. Boom. Pow. So that happened.

I couldn't possibly have said it better. If making a conscious and concerted choice is step one of commitment, then follow-through is step two. Let me illustrate this with an example that I have played out in my life a million times. I think to myself how badly I want to take control of my health and really rock some physical goals. So, I commit. I get more focused in my exercise habits. I clean up my diet. Things are going pretty good! Then all of  sudden I'm presented with the weekend... well shoot, my friends are all going to watch some football, followed by an impromptu pub crawl chased down with a DQ run on the way home?! How in the hell am I going to say no to that?!

Here's when one of two things happens: you stay loyal or you cheat. At this point, the mood with which you decided you want to "get healthy" has long passed and now you're faced with sticking to your guns or explaining why you're coming home with soft serve stains on your collar and a plastic, red spoon sticking out of your pocket. It's tough. It's embarrassing and most of all, it hurts. And it hurts because it's a disappointment. But this isn't the end of the story.

Like any relationship - whether with another human being or with ourselves - slip ups happen. It's weathering those slip ups that truly tests our character and dedication. Which brings us to my third and final lesson.

The difference between being interested in something and being committed to something is "habit investment." I won't front that I invented that awesome term "habit investment" - I'll give those props to the blog where I read about this concept (which is well worth the read). What I'm getting at is this: if you're interested in something you do it for awhile until you become disinterested and give it up for something else. If you're committed to something it becomes a lifestyle.

A lifestyle requires that you habitually build and foster it. You need to be vigilante in not just creating it, but also in care-taking it. No one is going to babysit it for you and no one can build it but you. This my friends, is true, unadulterated, real, raw investment and commitment.

I challenge you to look at your life and where you're playing at only 50%, 75%, hell, 90% of your max and figure out what's holding you back. This is YOUR life and you only get one go-around at it. Make the decision to commit to the things you've only let yourself dream you could be or accomplish and then begin investing in the habits that can turn that dream from a figment to a reality. Just think, every day you invest in that dream you are already living its reality. Now that is awesome. No waiting to tick some arbitrary goal with a finite deadline off your list, this is a LIFEstyle, and therefore, goes on for LIFE. The second you start, you are in it, baby! So go, GO, go and get busy living it!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Born to Do It

There's an R&B singer out of the UK - Craig David - who debuted the most kick ass R&B album in 2000 titled "Born to Do It." Get those little minds out of the gutter, friends... I know what you're thinking... "R&B?" "Born to do it?" "Sexxxxy time!" But I"m fairly certain he didn't mean knocking the boots. I think it was about being in the flow, you know, "in the zone" and being born to do something. Or so that's what I've decided he meant. I have no clue what the hell Craig David went on to do, but let me tell you what, "Born to Do It" was a smash success and that dude was definitely meant to DO that album. Trust, this is going somewhere, stick with me.

I held on to that album title in the recesses of my brain somewhere for the past 13 years. It surfaces once in awhile when I least expect it. The whole sassy, bravado of just owning something, being "born to do it," is a concept I really dig. But it's also a concept that requires two things that aren't quite so sexy: responsibility and courage. And for that, actually going out there and "doing it," often gets sidelined in exchange for just "doing something." If you'd be so kind as to lay down sit down beside me, let's share a little pillow talk before we go do it, shall we?

Sorry, had to dim the lights.

Okay, so here's what I know about "doing it:"

It is a responsibility that you must figure out. Welcome to the human race! You - yes YOU - are perfect in all your creation and were born to do something. Well that's pretty kick ass, right? But here's the rub, you owe it to the universe and whoever you pray to or give a shout out to, to fulfill that purpose. Now, don't get me wrong, figuring out what that purpose is, can be a real challenge. For me, that's been my Everest. I've always known I was meant to do something but I just couldn't pinpoint what. I could identify aspects of what I thought I was meant to do (help others, spread goodness, etc.) but it was like a magic eye. I saw a lot of fuzz. Nothing was popping out and revealing itself to me. So, I consistently told myself I didn't know what my purpose was yet, so I couldn't get started.

Now, let's all go ahead and do what needs to be done with that kind of thinking, let's call bullshit. Because that's exactly what that is. Here's the reality, this is life, and the whole picture doesn't present itself to you until you're sliding in to home in a pine box or urn. So if you're going to wait for your nicely wrapped purpose to show up, then just go lay down in that box now, because you're resolving yourself to not really living at all. I can hear you now, "okay, fine Shelley, so what do I do then?" Lucky for you, I came prepared for that question: you start by doing something that resembles an aspect of what you think your purpose is.

Let me give you a real life example, I want to be the next Oprah. Kind of a tall order, but I'm game for the challenge. So, how do I get started on that? For me, it means writing, being a passionate and curious listener and engaging with life as much and as attentively as possible. Have I built my do-gooder, Harpo empire yet? Not quite. But I am ten times happier than I was when I was "waiting to start," and I'd like to think I'm actually providing some benefit to the universe by being tuned in, open to, and helping others. And for that, I'm pretty certain I'm a few slides of the game piece closer to the purpose jackpot in this game of life.

It takes courage to leave your legacy. My mom and I were chatting this morning as I came home fired up from an awesome brunch where I was sharing some of my dreams and goals, with an amazing new friend. I was really selling my dream and my buzz to my mom... curls were bouncing, hands were flailing, eyes were wide, this was real deal, Shelley at a 10.0 on the scale. Somehow, my mom found a way to pipe up in the midst of all that Shelley and said: "when you were two months old I was at a party where they had a psychic. He looked at me and told me that I had a new baby that was going to be a helper of many people."

In that very moment I was a flood of thoughts and feelings. The magic eye got clear for a minute, Craig David's cd fell out of the backpack of my brain revealing its title, and I may or may not have gotten a little misty-eyed. Here's the deal guys, you can't possibly get to where you're meant to be going and leave that big, bad legacy that we all have within us if you're so afraid of letting your feet leave sure footing. It's just a fact of life: good stuff requires work. Great stuff requires risk. And ultra-life-changing-bad-ass-living-it-up stuff requires a lot of both: work and risk.

If you get nothing out of this post - other than the fact that I have amazing taste in early 2000's R&B and I have drank far too much caffeine today - take this: do one thing today that feels like it resembles an aspect of your purpose in some way, shape or form. At the end of the day, ask yourself if you're sorry you did that thing? You won't. Then, go do it again tomorrow, and the next day, add another thing the third day (you can see where this is going...) As one of my good friends recently shared with me, "little by little a little becomes a lot."