We waste a lot of energy trying to do things that are not pleasurable to us and don’t really make other people happy. I call them the 5 ‘little p’s’. They include: pleasing people, pretending, doing things to be popular, rehashing the past, and attempting to be perfect. I believe we should trade them off for the BIG P’s: Priorities, Play, Presence, Power and Purpose.
Lets look at the little guys...
It’s a habit we learned, probably early on in life. How do you try to please people? In big ways or small. It could be your spouse, your boss, your friends, your colleagues, your children. For example, one way I used to try to please friends was joining them in activities I didn’t really like. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I didn’t want them to think I was a bad friend. What happened is- I confused the activity with the relationship. I can love them and not sign up to go bowling. Why does this matter? Well, it robs you of your time and energy, mentally and physically. If I go do something I don’t really like, I won’t have a good time and may end up unconsciously resenting the people I love.
The core issue is that you have NO control over the story other people tell about you. And that is what people pleasing is. Your attempts to control how others think and feel about you. You cannot. Attempting to talk, act, and behave in a way crafted to please others is inauthentic. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying to be inconsiderate or non-empathetic. Be kind, compassionate and loving. The actions you do out of kindness, compassion and love will be deeply fulfilling and nourishing to you and the recipient. Like, "I'm not available to go bowling, but I'd really like to spend time with you. When are you free this week to [fill in the blank with what you know you and the friend you are talking to like to do]." If you just don't go bowling, there should be an empathetic action to follow. Trying to please will never get you the same results.
It is a like people pleasing, but on a larger scale. You are trying to control the story that many people have about you. When actions and thoughts arise out of attempts at being liked or admired by many, they are empty and inauthentic. You end up doing and saying things you’ll later regret or feel icky about after. Playing social games, gossiping, and doing things you don’t truly love. Striving to be popular is an indication you crave approval and validation. That you don’t love yourself.
It is a tall order, but you should work on loving yourself just as you are. Those who say they love you should love you because you exist. Not because you dress, behave, or think a certain way.
Abe Lincoln said, “Avoid popularity if you would have peace.” Let go of trying to be popular and it leads to greater inner peace. Inner peace is the only path to outer peace. Releasing the need to be popular frees up all sorts of mental and physical energy. You don’t have to worry about insignificant things like the number of likes on facebook or instagram followers. You can be free to think and dream and play in a way that truly nurtures you.
Let go of caring if people like or dislike you. You’re not on earth to win a popularity contest. You are here to be the best human being you possibly can be. Why not spend the time you used to invest in scanning instagram on a meditation pillow? Or on a yoga mat? Or looking at the sky?
pretending. Do you ever say, “everything’s fine,” when it’s not? Do you ever smile when you are actually in pain, afraid, or frustrated? Do you pretend you like things that. . . ya just don’t? Do you pretend you have it all together, when it feels like life is falling apart? When you pretend you hide your authentic self. When you pretend you are not treating yourself with love. You aren’t doing the world any favors. In fact, when you pretend you are not showing up for your life. It could be for a number of reasons. You don’t want to create conflict so you pretend everything is fine. You don’t want to cry in front of others because you don’t want to look weak. You go along with the plan to eat mexican although it give you horrible gas. Whatever!
Instead, start taking off your masks. It will take time and courage. Strive to have your words and actions be a true reflection of your inner experience. At times it will feel terrifying. You may say and do things that shock the people in your life. You have to come clean. It doesn’t mean that you have to tell your mother in law you hate her famous turkey casserole, your child that their painting isn’t good, or your boss his shirt is hideous. But it is time to speak up when your spouse says something that hurts your feelings. Speak up when you feel you are being taken advantage of at work. Say you would rather have Italian than Mexican. There are graceful ways to speak your truth. You will have hiccups along the way, but you will find the path to greater honesty. You will inspire others to be authentic and truthful. Trust me, you will gain respect, genuine intimacy, and greater self-love as you slowly let go of playing pretend.
It no longer exists. It exists only in your mind. And there in your mind, it plays on repeat with its favorite dance partner, the future.
Try this: sit for 5 minutes and watch your thoughts. You will witness your brain offer up a number of past experiences. You will relive some and think, “ Oh that was fun, let’s think about how to do more of that.” Often the mind offers up moments you “Should have done this or that differently.” Then there are moments of, “I hope that person didn’t take that the wrong way.” You justify thinking about the past. You don’t want to repeat (what you think are) mistakes. Thing is, usually you don’t solve anything, you just replay things in different ways. Even if you ‘solve’ something, you still don’t know the future. It’s just imagination. You haven’t created a solution, just a potential reaction to an event that already happened. It is a complete waste of mental energy. You cannot change the past! It has happened. You can forgive yourself, pat yourself on the back, or send an apology email, then, as the Beatles say, “Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be.”
It’s hard to let go. It’s a deep rut of a habit. It takes attention and awareness. But it’s worth the effort because you will gain back valuable metal energy, decrease stress, and find much greater ease and joy. Every time you think about the past, let the cloud of thought drift through your mind. Watch it there. Watch it leave. While you are walking. While you are eating. While you are driving. Lots of past moments will come drifting through. Keep returning to the present.
The old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ has a flaw: perfect doesn’t exists. At least not in the way you think it does. Perfect assumes that you, or other people, or things, need to change. Then they can be accepted or loved. You need to lose weight to have the perfect body (and then you’ll be happy). You need to get more money to buy the perfect house (and then you’ll be happy). Your spouse needs to learn how to take out the trash without you having to ask a million times in order to be perfect (and then you’ll be happy). What ends up happening is you beat yourself up, judge and resent other people, and rob yourself of the abundant joyful gratitude here in the present.
Think of it as a blooming flower. If you saw a bud and you thought, “This is not a perfect flower! I must open it! I must make it a perfect flower!” What would happen? You would force the petals apart, ripping them. It would not become a blossom. The opposite would happen, you would kill it. It is not time for the flower to be a blossom, it is time for the flower to be a bud.
Letting go of being perfect does not mean you don’t change. Change is natural and inevitable. But, it takes away the striving. It means you accept and love the present without the stress of comparing it to some imagined ideal. From that space, you allow change to happen, blossom.
Another way to reframe it is ‘the present is perfect.’ Let go of judgment, towards yourself and others. It takes time because you have been conditioned to want things to be different. You think you’ll be happy in the future, because your happiness is dependent on things beyond your control. If you don’t release the desire to perfect life, it will imprison you. It will rob you of joy. Once you have bought your dream home, you won’t be happy, your pursuit of perfection will just shift to something else in your life. Stop striving for change; allow change to happen. Act out of integrity, authenticity, and unconditional love for you and the planet and perfect change will happen. Striving just gets in the way.
What you will gain when you sacrifice these small p’s? The Big P’s
Once you have freed up the mental and physical energy that the small p’s were taking up, you will have the capacity to focus on what you truly value.
You have to organize your life and Prioritize where your energy goes. Check out The Radical Act of Prioritizing I wrote here.
I love what Osho writes in his book, Courage, “Work- work is needed- but don’t let work become your only life. Play should remain your life, your center of life. Work should just be a means toward play.”
So, what activities are ‘play’? Play is any activity that is done purely for the sheer joy of doing it. It is something that you engage fully, that takes you out of a sense of time. It is voluntary. It is pleasurable. You are not into doing it to achieve an outcome. There may be an outcome, but that is not the point. For example, if you are playing cards with your buddies for fun and connection, it’s play. If you are gambling obsessed with hitting the jackpot, it’s not play.
Unfortunately, our society tends to think of play as adults (and not talking about the bedroom. . . although that play is necessary too!) as unproductive, not needed, a guilty pleasure. Think about it for yourself. What do you think of Play? How much play do you have in your life? Do you judge other people who play? Do you judge yourself when you make time to play?
We need to play a lot more. Play increases our creativity, connection to others, and flexibility. It is vital to increased empathy and communication. Novel ideas are born out of play. Insight. Revelations. As Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” And play is vital for our mental and physical health. It sets off a cascade of emotional hormones that decrease stress and increase joy. Play is restorative. It allows us to be more focused and present while at work, with our family, and everything else in life. Play is medicine for the heart, body and mind.
Play is FUN! No one is will look back on their life and say, “I wish I had enjoyed life a lot less.”
What’s really awesome is that play and opportunities to play are all around us. We just have to recognize them. And usually they are free or inexpensive. It could be things we traditionally think of as play: having a snowball fight, swinging, playing games of imagination with your kids. . .or by yourself! If you enjoy it, it’s play. Drawing, singing, dancing, cooking, gardening, knitting. Competitive games are play, when winning doesn’t dictate the enjoyment. Sports, board games, card games.
What is play for some is torture for others. I cannot tell you what will be your play. Reflect and find the activities that bring you deep joy. What playful things did you do as a child? What did you do before you felt like you needed to achieve anything? If you had a day completely free to do joyful activities, what would they be?
Don’t put off play. Play everyday. Keep a box of crayons at your desk for a coloring break. Dance while you vacuum. Set up a weekly tennis date with a friend. Have a food fight while you are make dinner with your spouse. Whatever! Don’t put it off till the weekend. Don’t play after you get all the work done. You have no idea what will happen this weekend. The work will never all get done. Make play a priority. You will have more ease, purpose, and joy the more you make space to PLAY!
Don’t think this one precious life.
Live this one precious life.
“The present moment it the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments.” –Thich Nhat Hanh
We live most of our moments unaware of the present. Our minds love to chit-chat all day. The mind loves to chatter about two things the most: the past and the future. The past, as I have said, cannot be changed. The future, cannot be determined -- we have no idea what is going to happen. But the mind loves to think and plan and anticipate. All the chit-chat drowns out the most precious thing: the Present. Being present in whatever it is you’re doing, who you are with, what you are experiencing. How often have you been about 75% doing something, but there's 25% of you thinking about, anticipating, and planning for what’s happening next? Then you get to the next thing and you are thinking about the next? And on and on, and your days tumble into nights like dominos,and you can't remember any of them.
The present is all that you have. Now. Now. Now. It was the future and it becomes the past so quickly. In the now is the joy, ease, bliss you are waiting for, wanting for, thinking will happen if you change your life in some way.
Ways to Cultivate Presence
Meditation helps to train your being to return to the present. You sit comfortably, close your eyes, and watch. Watch the mind--it will offer all sorts of past and future thoughts up for consideration. Each time you realize you are having a thought, let it drift away and come back to the present. It helps to have an anchor to come back to. In Vipassana meditation the anchor is the breath. Watch your breath in 4 parts: First as you inhale, second for the moment you pause at the top of the breath, third as you exhale, and fourth in the pause before you inhale again. You will notice that it is very difficult! The mind loves to wander. Its totally natural, because it’s what it’s been trained to do. Don’t beat yourself up or get frustrated, that’s just another obstacle to being present. Keep coming back to the breath.
Do one thing at a time. Everyday activities can be meditations if you bring your whole being to it. There is great joy in doing one thing at a time. Simplicity. Ease. When you are walking, just watch yourself walk. When you are brushing your teeth, just watch yourself brush your teeth. When you are eating, just watch yourself eat. You may be thinking “this is going to take more time, and I won’t get anything else done.” Nope. Complete action, giving all of your mental and physical energy to one task at a time, allows you to see how to do things easier and more efficiently. You may realize that you can dry the dishes more efficiently, do a particular task at work with less effort, or be with your children in a more joyful way. Being present ends up saving you time and mental angst. It also allows you to see the things you do you don’t need to do, freeing up more time.
Come back to this moment.
Don’t think this one precious life.
Live this one precious life. (These words borrowed from the poem below in Purpose)
Stepping into your power is one of the most radical acts you can do. I have written about it HERE in my post Strength that Comes from the Heart.
“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” –Summer Days, Mary Oliver
Those last two lines in particular, “Tell me, what it is you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” When people like you start to reflect on this question, discover answers, and act with clarity of purpose, great change can happen.
Most folks, most of the time, are not acting or working in a purposeful way. Instead of being the driving force in their life, they are in a constant state of reaction. And there is a lot to react to. Wake up, check email, check Facebook, check whatever, and you start the domino chain of reactivity. You react not only to the screens in your life, but also to your spouse, children, boss, friends, and the person who cuts you off in traffic. Of course, you have to react to things, but these responses should not be automatic or thoughtless.
You are not here on this planet to check things off the neverending to do lists. I know, there are things that have to be done. Do them once you uncover the WHY behind what you are doing. It can be simple things. Like, why are you going to the grocery store? To buy the healthiest and most nutritious food for you and your family? Here are a few more: Why do you beat yourself up? Why do you stay in a job you hate? Why do you nag your spouse? This is not to make you feel bad, it is to uncover something deeper within. Resourcefulness. Passion. Love.
Why are you here? What work do you want to do that can serve the planet? And feed your soul? How can you align your life with what you deeply value? How can your actions better reflect this?
There is a unique set of capabilities, insights, and talents that lay dormant, awaiting to serve within you. But you have to take time to reflect on what you want to do with your life. Uncovering your purpose requires you to think about how you can be of greatest service to others. Ask yourself: what do I really and truly love? what one thing brings me the greatest joy? how can I live that in some way every day?It means stepping into your power and becoming the agent of ACTION in your life.
What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? You may have already started to become aware of your purpose in some small or large way. Listen to that. Trust that. You have all the answers.