This year, my colleague Mo Faul and I embarked on a new endeavor – producing a weekly podcast designed to help professional women build their best work and best lives. We began in September, and the journey to a successful podcast recording experience has been a wonderful and eye-opening one.
One huge surprise to us (although it shouldn’t be) is that the more authentic, transparent, and open (and raw) we are in the show, the more it touches people, and the more it makes them stop and think about their own lives. And from the feedback we’re getting, the more it generates life-changing action as well.
This holiday season, Mo and I decided to tackle an issue that affects millions of people – how to create more love, kindness, and compassion in our lives, and how to repair relationships that have been damaged by our thoughtless, pain and selfishness.
Click below to listen to what we believe are the top 6 behaviors we believe heal, repair and spread love.
Here’s our take:
1. Engaging in forgiveness
As Mo shares, so many of us get hung up on the idea that if we forgive someone who’s done us wrong, it means we’ll be giving away our power, and making it “ok” that they hurt us. Seeing forgiveness as weakness, then, makes us withhold it.
But that’s not the highest concept of forgiveness. In fact, when we stop ourselves from forgiving, we blunt our ability to be connected, live strong, and love full out. Mo recommends that we begin thinking of heart-centered forgiveness differently.
We’re only hurting ourselves by holding onto hate, anger, jealousy or envy.
In the context of forgiving someone who has hurt us, Mo shares that we often need to forgive something inside of ourselves first, before we forgive outwardly. What you are so hateful of in someone else is often the very same thing you see in yourself that you don’t like, and long to suppress or destroy.
2. Accessing more kindness in your heart
I’ve written before that to me, kindness is the sweetness of life. But when we’re stressed, worried and expending so much life energy grasping after things we feel we’re missing, we often forget to stop and be kind – to ourselves and to others. We see people’s lives from the outside in and make all sorts of harsh, cruel judgments. Or we think that everyone else has it all going on, and we’re the losers.
Take a look at Facebook right now and tell me how many of your friends and colleagues are revealing their true and authentic lives there. The problem is that when we become so used to seeing this “retouched” version of people’s lives, we begin to lose touch with the ability to be kind and compassionate about the internal struggles others are dealing with each day. (I’ve seen in my work with thousands of people each year that the list of painful internal battles people are facing around the world is truly endless.)
Often when we’re struggling, our cup is not full; it’s completely empty. And when our cup feels empty, it’s virtually impossible to give kindness. What to do? One helpful step is to integrate into our lives some form of an impetus, or daily practice, that helps us get in touch again with our kindness, empathy and concern for others.
3. Moving away from focusing on how you’ve been “wronged”
Mo explains that sometimes when we think we’ve been wronged, it is often just be the “stories” our minds have created to make sense of what’s happening around us. As Brené Brown shares in her recent powerful SuperSoul Sunday episode with Oprah, the stories we habitually tell ourselves so often create pain, suffering and a huge divide between us and our friends, colleagues and loved ones, but these stories are self-fabricated, non-factual accounts of what’s going on. What to do? When you’re feeling pain or anger, stop and ask yourself, “What story am I telling myself about this, and how may it be false? What’s a more accurate, positive story? What’s really going on?”
There’s another concept I learned in my therapy training that has singlehandedly changed how I look at any critique and criticism I get from others:
“Everything that comes at you from others is much more about the other person than about you. And everything you send out into the world, even if you think someone has legitimately provoked it, is more about you and your internal state, than about the other person.”
If we don’t gain awareness of the internal stories we tell ourselves about what happens to us, then we don’t have choice and control over how we decide to act and react in our relationships and interpersonal dealings. Everything is a choice.
4. Tapping into the real, internal states of others
In 2013, when my father was in his final stages of prostate cancer that had spread all over his body, we moved him to an incredibly wonderful hospice home, the Joan Nicole Prince Home, in Schenectady, New York. The non-stop loving care, kindness and compassion that these inspiring young hospice volunteers (many of whom were medical students at the nearby Union College from a program run by Dr. Carol Weisse) showed was truly remarkable. Our family will never forget how they made my dad (and my mother who sat by his side for hours each day) feel so nurtured and cared for.
There was one hospice volunteer in particular, Isaiah, who formed a very deep bond with Dad. After my father’s passing, I was given the opportunity to read the journal that Isaiah kept about his hospice experiences, and it brought flowing tears to my eyes.
Here’s an excerpt:
The Joan Nicole Prince Home is where I met Joe. He truly changed how I look at the world. A nonagenarian with prostate cancer, Joe was also suffering from dementia, and seeing him during my shifts was the highlight of my week. I spent most of my shift sitting with him while he slept and talking to him while he was awake. He talked fondly of his wife and children and recounted his days as a chemical engineer. I remember sitting with him, day after day, studying for my MCAT. Joe, unable to remember my name most days, always asked me what I was doing, to which I responded with the subject I was studying that day. When it came to chemistry, he surprised me with an act of kindness I will never forget: He offered to help me study, mentioning (possibly for the hundredth time) that he had been a chemical engineer. I declined politely, but I was still struck by his compassion for someone who, to him, was a stranger. It made me think; most of my patients will be strangers to me at first. How will I treat them? The same way Joe treated me, of course. I had truly been blessed to have him in my life, and I hope my patients feel the same about me.
Isaiah went on to share about losing Dad as a friend and a patient…
The deaths are not always this bad and this personal, but they can be. Joe’s passing reminded me of what I was afraid of: getting close to a resident (or future patient) and having to say goodbye. I now know this is never easy but have realized that it’s okay to feel something and to let yourself feel. If you conceal the emotions they just bubble and overflow in other ways. Joe helped me see is that you are never truly gone as long as others remember you. To this day, I keep a note from Joe in my car about being happy. One day I went to the home in a bit of a funk and Joe – a man with dementia that sometimes couldn’t remember the name of his wife, the love of his life – noticed that I was upset. I said “Hey buddy, how are you?” Joe responded “What’s wrong? The world smiles when you smile. Keep smiling!” This caught me off guard and made me smile, so I asked Joe to write that down. He did and now whenever I have a bad a day I just look at the driver’s side visor in my car and read my note from Joe. It’s funny how a sports buddy who was four times my age could make me the happiest and saddest in a matter of months, but that’s life.
To me, a key theme of these precious words — and what Isaiah remembers about my father — is that even as Dad was leaving his time on this earth, he cared deeply in his heart and soul for this kind young man, and what he was experiencing.
Do we all take the time and effort to check into the internal states of those around us? Do we care about others deeply, and do we show that we care?
5. Realizing why you attack others
Mo shares in this podcast a very poignant story about a recent exchange she had with her stepdaughter. As her stepdaughter entered the room, Mo began pointing out some recent errors she had made in her work, in a way that felt hurtful and condemning. Her stepdaughter stopped and asked Mo, “Why do you always have to treat me like this?”
At that question, Mo stopped in her tracks, and faced the realization that there was a deep truth in her stepdaughter’s question. In fact, Mo realized that this wasn’t the first time she had been hard on a loved one in a demeaning way, because she saw in the other person traits and characteristics that exist within her that she judges harshly.
The key message here is to look carefully at what you condemn in others, and why. When you do, you’ll very likely find yourself condemning traits you yourself possess but wish to suppress, or traits that remind you of others who you feel were hurtful to you.
The problem is that attacking these “flaws” or traits in others only exacerbates your own pain and separation – from your highest self and from loving, life-affirming relationships with others.
6. Healing with your smile
Recently, I performed in a number of holiday concerts, and something happened that awakened me to recognizing the healing and transformative power of a smile. In one of the concerts, the Master of Ceremonies shared with the audience an impromptu comment about my smile. While I was initially very embarrassed (and blushed ten shades of red in front of the audience) I took in the compliment, and later, thought about the power of a smile. In the days that followed, my smile was surprisingly mentioned three more times, in three completely different settings, among both strangers and people I knew well. They used the words “beacon of light,” uplifting, joyful, calming, and kind, to describe my smile.
As I thought about this more, I realized that I had been smiling much more during the past month. I was more rested, relaxed and energetic, and also very excited about the approaching holidays as well as about my new work in the coming year. I realized too that smiles have many different facets and meanings to different people, including light, appreciation, love, acceptance, sympathy, kindness and humor. And finally, I recognized that when I’m highly stressed, over-worked, and over-burdened, my smile simply disappears.
In our podcast, I gave a challenge to myself and our listeners to be more conscious of our smiles, and to actively and compassionately offer an authentic, from-the-heart smile to as many people as possible this holiday season and beyond. And to notice what you get back from your smiles.
Finally, Mo and I gave ourselves a 2016 task – to choose ONE word that describes our most desired outcome or theme for 2016 – the one thing we long for most to have in great abundance in the coming year.
Will you join us? What’s your one-word theme for 2016? Please share it with us, and Happy Holidays to you and yours!