Personal growth is a contest of endurance and will.
In order to be able to move forward and make progress physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need to find a way to clear the negative energy first. I like to describe personal growth in terms of a marathon, because although there are sprints here and there to gain ground quickly, overall it is about consistency, commitment and courage in the face of challenges.
Picture running that marathon in bulky sweats, a weighted vest and heavy boots. How far would we get before we quit or our progress slowed to a painful pace with us burdened by all the negative emotions and thoughts? I do not believe it is the suffering itself that prompts our growth, but how we use it to learn. So, if we do not have to run our race shackled and encumbered, why would we?
Logically, it is easy to conclude that we will make better progress if we can shuck the negativity and exchange it for mindfulness and joy. Unfortunately, this change in our state does not come from the brain or logic, otherwise we would just decide and it would magically shift. It takes awareness and a plan to transcend this, so let’s talk strategy.
The first step to breaking free is awareness that we are in a negative or anxious state. Each individual has their own “tells,” such as increased heart rate, body pain, irritability, or sadness—all of which are usually accompanied by cycles of negative thoughts that may or may not be true. Some of our self-defeating behaviors are so ingrained that they may not disappear, but having an awareness of them can activate our clearing strategies.
Once we are aware of our triggers, we can design a system(s) to overcome. We are all resilient once we recognize that we have the power to choose our state. We are not victims; we are warriors. Each person needs to develop their own method, but here are some suggestions:
1. Music: I know my favorite songs can lift my spirits quickly. Whether the beat resonates with some inner rhythm or the song reminds you of wonderful memories, music can bring a smile to your face and remind you of happy times and what you did to create them.
2. Self care rituals: There are numerous self care strategies, but here I am referring to all the small rituals that bring some order to the chaos of our lives. Things such as preparing meals ahead of time so that we can fuel our bodies well, scheduling time for our own activities, and organizing/cleaning our home/work environment. These practices can clear negative energy and help prevent its build up.
3. Exercise: I can’t stress enough how much my weight training sessions restore my calm as I allow negative emotions and thoughts to be “used up” during my exertion. I like to visualize my burdens as fuel to move my body, and like any fuel source they dissipate. I use heavy lifting for this, but yoga or any other physically challenging activity will work as well.
4. Quiet time: Whether time is spent in meditation, prayer, visualization or taking a quick nap, we all need time away from the busy and frantic to slow down and require less of our body and minds.
5. Journaling: Pouring out our thoughts and emotions on paper or into a digital format is cathartic. It is clarifying and healing to admit and see where our struggles are, which returns us to awareness. Seeing a problem, whether real or imagined, enables our minds to start working on solutions.
6. Hugs: Do not underestimate the power of oxytocin! Not only does a hug give the opportunity for us to feel connection and support from a fellow human, the oxytocin release increases serotonin and dopamine for a calming effect that can last well past the physical contact. This hormone also reduces the stress hormones, cortisol and norepinephrine. When my kids are anxious or sad, I ask them if they want/need a hug before I ask how I can help. I find few things more comforting than someone offering a big hug to help me feel better.
7. Dance and Play: It is amazing how acting more child-like can clear away the woes of the day. The dance I am talking about here is not for performance or exercise, nor is the play. It is geared toward allowing yourself to be silly or productively unproductive. We live in a society that judges people by what they accomplish, so we get stuck feeling like every activity must have some higher goal. The higher goal can be giving yourself time to relax and play a video game, a board game with friends, or even better hit the playground and swing or slide. I am too old/wise to jump out of the swing like I used to, but I love the freedom and exhilaration of swinging as high as I can.
8. Tears: I do not need to cite numerous studies about the healing and stress relieving ability of tears for us to know that we feel better after a good cry. I can usually feel the sadness, anger and frustration building like a huge wave and know tears will get me to the other side of that crest to the calmness. Just as most of us know what songs can bring us a smile, we also know what songs will bring on the tears. If we need a little nudge, cycle back to the power of number one.
9. Sex: Multiply the effect of the hug and add in all the benefits of orgasm, and we have a powerhouse in the clearance of negative energy.
10. Laughter: I know we all have been down and laughter pulled us out of the hole, at least temporarily. So, call your funny friend. There are countless hilarious videos and articles out there, whether they are about weird cats, the challenges of dating or, my favorite right now, high people and sloths. Pick one. Watch/read. Laugh. Release.
The biggest key to clearing all that burdens us is having a plan or strategy in place before we are suffocating from the pain, unable to move forward at anything other than a crawl. As we have awareness, we can use the weapons in our arsenal. I find that most of these work best when used as a system, since some are more lasting than others. Things like self-care, exercise and quiet time can help prevent build up of negativity, while laughter, music and hugs can provide a quick fix until we can get to the good stuff like play and sex.
It is our choice to either struggle along, hoping to get used to the burden of all that we carry, or we can strip off the heaviness of suffering and get ready to run with joy toward all the victories ahead of us.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Jem Yoshioka/Flickr