Its My Life | Stress Relief for the Type-A Personality
Melissa Heisler is a stress reduction expert, Type Me business coach, and the author of From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It. After 17 years in corporate marketing the stress of constant high pressure, deadline driven jobs led to her own ill health mentally and physically.
In April I shared the Shakti Gawain quote, “You can love other people only to the degree that you’ve come to love and accept yourself.” Group member and founder of ARTemis, Sam Hull, had this question in response, “Love or acceptance? Self-love is immeasurable, but self-acceptance is easily documented and weighed against self-neglect. Yes? So what is the difference that would place love or acceptance?” Great question Sam!
To me, self-acceptance is only one part of self-love. Self-love is unconditional and is part self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-appreciation, and self-care. To fully experience self-love, all of these components must be present.
To truly experience self-love, it must be unconditional. It is easy to love ourselves after we win an award, lose 10 lbs. or have some other tangible accomplishment. True self-love does not need a reason to love. The love exists through the good and the bad, the highs and the lows. It neither needs a reason to love nor is deterred when we are not at our best. Self-love is constant.
Self-love comes from self-awareness, knowing who we are completely. If we are loving the mask we wear, it is not true self-love. To truly love ourselves, we can not hide who we are. We need the strength and vulnerability to see who we truly are, not who we want to be or believe we are supposed to be. Self-awareness is being courageous enough to see our truth.
With this awareness, we then need to accept ourselves wholeheartedly, warts and all. We can be aware of our truth, but if we do not accept it, if we judge ourselves because of it, or we perceive it as unworthy, that is not self-love. Self-love is knowing ourselves intimately, the perceived good and bad, and still loving ourselves deeply.
One step further than unconditional acceptance, is appreciating ourselves just the way we are. This is not about praising our accomplishments, but about seeing our true selves and appreciating how our uniqueness is a gift to the world. No one can be and do what we can. We are unique, with unique contributions to offer. Embracing and appreciating our inherent gifts is a key component of self-love.
Where the other components of self-love revolve around thought and belief, self-care is about action. You can say you unconditionally love yourself but if you are not eating right and providing the body, mind and spirit what it needs, you are not acting on your self-love. Self-care is the manifestation of our awareness, acceptance, and appreciation.
To Sam’s question, self-acceptance is not the opposite of self-neglect. Self-neglect may be a symptom of the lack of self-acceptance, but it is not the other end of the spectrum. Many people do not accept themselves and therefore shower themselves with self-care, but if they can not accept themselves, self-care may just be a Band-Aid and a weak attempt to fill the self-love void.
What does self-love mean to you? Are you truly loving yourself unconditionally with total awareness, acceptance, and appreciation? Are you gifting yourself with the care you inherently deserve?
Until you can love yourself with this unconditional love, you may find it difficult to truly, deeply love another.
In yoga, I usually grab the back corner. I don’t want anyone to see me doing yoga. I am recently back to the practice, round and not stick-figure-toned, and usually older than most of the other practitioners. Most of the time, I am surrounded by fit, thin 20-somethings and feel like the ugly duckling so I retreat to the back. However, from the back corner, what I see is not just the instructor but all the participants. As my focus is on them, I find I often compare myself to them. I am not judging them as much as I am judging myself, my ability, and my worth by their ability and appearance.
On Friday I arrived and no one else was there. I took a place upfront because I knew the instructor would make me move anyway. Well by the time the class started, there were three rows of people. I took a deep breath and prepared for being on display. What was interesting was being in front made me less conscious of others, less self-conscious, and less judging. Because I didn’t see anyone else, I could release the comparison and solely focus on myself.
What I realized was hiding in the back didn’t protect me. It actually made me more self-conscious because I saw the others in front of me. Being in the back put more focus on others and allowed me the opportunity to compare myself to them. Being in the back did not hide and protect me, but actually hurt me because I choose to compare.
By making myself first, in the front of the room, I could not see the others. The others didn’t matter when I couldn’t see and focus on them. By putting myself first, I removed “the other” and allowed me to focus on myself. That day in class was one of my best practices I experienced because it was just about me. No comparisons. No self-consciousness. Just doing my best and accepting myself as I am. Because I was not focusing on others, I was able to go within (the whole point to yoga). I was able to focus on my moves, my practice. I found strength I didn’t have when I was self-conscious. Without the yoke of comparison, I was free to explore each pose. I found this practice to be one of the best I ever had.
As you go about your day, how much time is spent comparing yourself to others? How much of your focus is on what others are doing and saying versus what you believe and think? How are you stifling yourself because you don’t think you are as [insert adjective here] as others?
This week be aware of the comparisons and judgements you are making. What do they mean about your self-opinion? How are they keeping you from moving forward? Are they creating resentment and sadness? Then try to shed the comparisons and notice how you can free yourself. When we put ourselves first, we unrestrict our purpose and heart and we are more powerful. Stop hiding behind others, and step into the front of life.
We currently live in a community of duplexes which are built very close together. Our balcony is attached to our neighbor’s balcony; we can literally hop the divider and be on their side. We can see our backyard neighbor’s kitchen from our bedroom. The neighbor across the street has a clear view into our house from his patio. At first, I thought this might be a bit intrusive, but everyone is respectful, and the close quarters have actually created a wonderful feeling of community.
It can also feel a bit like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. As I work from home, I have picked up the pattern of the local community from the first 7:00am car horn picking up kids for school, to our shirtless neighbor having his third cigarette on the patio, to the evening barbeques watching the sunset.
In the movie Rear Window, there is Miss Lonely Heart having dinners on her own, a beautiful showgirl practicing her dance moves, and a composer who creates his work all day and night. We too have a musician. Back in January I started to notice someone practicing the piano weekdays late in the afternoon and randomly on the weekends. The player is working on Mozart’s very difficult Rondo Alla Turca.
As the song is played every day, I am glad it is one of my favorites. The player here is very good but stumbles about one minute into the piece where it shifts. For about a month, I heard the player work and rework and work some more on this transition. By April, the player’s practice paid off with a smooth brilliant transition. Note too, that my local pianist plays the song much faster than the video link. Amazing!
In listening to the player’s ability grow over the months, I was struck by the dedication to this piece. It made me think of what is needed for success: Practice, Consistency, and Patience.
Especially in our current instant-gratification society, having dedication to our practice is challenging. I see this with my own desire to speak and understand the Spanish language. I speak it every time I can, but I also know if I would pick up the CD tutorial or hire a teacher that the daily practice would excel my ability. But committing to the practice is difficult. I was amazed at the player’s daily practice even when the piece was not working well (I heard more than one time all fingers – or whole head – angerly hitting the keys). But then two seconds later, practice would continue. Having the courage to practice even when things are not smooth is the path to success.
The pianist plays daily, sometimes multiple times a day, without fail. When we are trying something new, it is easy to say we aren’t going to do it today because of [insert reason here]. Strength comes from being consistent no matter the circumstances. Have a cold? Play. Friends coming over later? Play. Spent more time than usual practicing the day before? Play. During this spring’s yoga challenge, I learned the strength that comes from consistency. Success comes from dedicating yourself to a practice and holding yourself accountable to make it happen each and every day.
I honor the pianist’s patience. I can tell the days where the piece is not as good as the player thinks it can be. Through the un-Mozart sounds that come after a passage, I can hear frustration. But then I also experience the deep cleansing breath before the player gets back at it again. I don’t know what is going on in the pianist’s head, but just the fact that the player can “get back on the horse” after a musical fall shows great love and self-acceptance. We are often very hard on ourselves. Without patience and acceptance, we often block ourselves and stifle our growth. Be patience, loving and accepting of yourself. Practice patience as you learn and grow.
Whether you are learning something new or just trying to get through your day, look to practice, consistency and patience to help support you toward your definition of success.
This is my 300th blog post (or at least I think it is). Woohoo! I never set out to write this many, but it is great to celebrate the accomplishment nonetheless. I may not have had the journalists and a single pathetic balloon to celebrate like Home Simpson had for his perfect 300 bowling game, but I will take some time today to really acknowledge the achievement, the persistence, and the positive responses I have received. Through these 300 posts, at least 150,000 words, I have sent messages meant to inspire, enlighten, and support. Hopefully affecting those that need it when they need it.
You can find Homer’s 300 game at www.simpsonsworld.com › Clips
In our fast-paced world, we don’t take enough time to celebrate big – and little – accomplishments. In a constant rush to the next event or next task, we don’t take time to celebrate what we have achieved. And because of this, we often feel not good enough, not loved. We feel less than because we don’t take the time to recognize the amazing things we do throughout the day. Don’t make that face. Really, each and every day you do something amazing. You are reading these words. You helped the elderly woman at the grocery store. You propelled a moving vehicle. You took care of your family. You landed that big deal at work, or at least managed not to kill your co-workers. Take some time today to notice all that you do and how it improves the quality of life for you and for those around you.
Now take your awareness out to a larger level and recognize all the miracles and blessings you experience. For instance, you are reading a post I wrote in Mexico which you found online or in your electronic mail inbox and can read it thousands of miles away. Amazing! Have you experienced the miracle of flight? Do you find fresh delicious foods in your refrigerator or the local market every day? Do you have food, shelter, and clothing? Are you able to listen to your favorite musical artist anytime, anywhere? Are friends and family a click, call, or short drive away?
I find that depression sets in when we look at our lack instead of all we have. Spend some time today acknowledging your accomplishments and recognizing all the miracles and blessings in your life. No matter the bad that we all experience, there is always a host of good happening at the same time. When you become obsessed with the bad, stop and refocus. Start listing off things to be grateful for; recount your achievements. By going through this exercise, you not only shift your focus to abundance, but give yourself the love and courage and strength you need to move forward.
Do not just focus on yourself, but be sure to take the time to tell others how much they mean to you. Talk about their achievements. Let them know why and how much you love them. All too often we can take those most important to us for granted. For yourself and them, take the time to recognize the blessing they are in your life.
As you approach this week, find a way to celebrate and appreciate every day. Big or small, what do you accomplish? Some days getting out of bed when we dread going to work is the biggest accomplishment we can have. That’s ok. Celebrate it. Every night make a list of everything you accomplished. Every morning think of five things for which you are grateful. Celebrating accomplishments, acknowledging achievements, and being grateful are the keys to making every day special.
Water supply is a major concern for the desert town of Cabo San Lucas. Because of this, we just had a larger cistern installed to help us have more supply on hand, just in case. During construction a delivery truck damaged part of my neighbor’s driveway. I panicked. I thought our neighbor would be angry. I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot in our new community.
I expected the neighbor to rush over, irately pound on my door, and say they would sue me so I kept watch hoping to talk to them before they saw the damage and became upset. Due to our schedules, I kept missing them. I asked the construction workers if the neighbor had come over to complain. The workers told me that the neighbor had come over and the crew explained that we had plans in place to repair the damage. The neighbor went home happy without even talking to me. Really? Phew.
I learned three things from this incident.
Life is messy. Life is far from perfect. Even with the best intentions, bad or annoying stuff can happen. Accept it. So much of our stress comes from expecting perfection when, in reality, life is unpredictable and everchanging. Stuff breaks. Stuff disappears. Stuff is not where and when we need it. Don’t focus on who to blame. Don’t think it means anything about your worth. It doesn’t mean anything about us or anyone else. It just is. As you release unrealistic expectations for unchanging perfection and the desire to find someone to blame, you can decrease the stress you experience.
Not spazzing is first about not reacting poorly to stuff happening which does not meet our expectations, and secondly about not being upset before we know what stuff has happened. I wasn’t quite up to spaz level, but my assumptions about my neighbor having a negative response were not pleasant. When we spaz, we are letting our fears create negative emotions. When we react from fear, we are not clear and in control. We are letting our negative emotions lead which often makes things unpleasant for ourselves and others. Take a breath. Don’t assume. Don’t fear. Uncover the truth.
Make it right.
If you are responsible for causing another pain or discomfort, own it. Apologize. Do what you can to make it right. We all make mistakes, and that’s ok. Take responsibility for your actions and do your best to make it right for all involved.
After the non-incident with my neighbor, the next challenge was overcoming my expectations for the completion of the project. Construction was not progressing as quickly as it originally had. The Type A in me started to show up. I mentally set deadlines I could not control, and I became stressed and upset when they were not met. Then I looked back at this blog post idea. Stuff happens. Materials were not available. Personal issues came up with the crew. I stopped spazzing and started joking with the crew about which mañana (tomorrow) the project would actually be finished by. It always amazes me the freedom and joy I experience when I move from the negative emotions of anger and disappointment, to embracing acceptance and playfulness. Finally, we all tried to make it right. The crew couldn’t meet the deadlines they set, but it was because they were doing quality work. By releasing my expectations, I made the project easier on them because I did not add tension to the situation.
As you move through this week, notice what you are triggered by. Can you accept that stuff happens, keep your fear-based negative reactions in check, and rationally look for ways to make it right?
Part of my day job is to make engagement calls to my career transition candidates. Sometimes I reach them. Sometimes I leave a voice-mail. The one situation that always intrigues me is when they answer my call and then say in a huff, “I’m in a meeting.” I am pretty brilliant, but I am not yet psychic. I don’t have the foresight to know what people are doing when I call. The onus is not on me to not call, but on them to not answer.
The issue is not when to call or not, but one of control – or lack of control, of turning over control to technology. Is it a badge of pride that we are so busy that we have to take a call during a meeting? Is it the feeling of overwhelm that compels us to answer messages immediately to prove how much we have on our plate? Is it the lack of self-respect that we put the caller’s needs above our own?
When we reduce ourselves to Pavlovian, mindlessly answering calls, texts and emails when we are in the middle of something else, we are not only rude and unprofessional to those we are meeting with, but to me, more importantly, it means we are not being present. If we were 100% present in our meeting, we would not answer our phones.
A friend had the honor of meeting Sir Richard Branson at his private island. Here is a man who heads more than 400 companies. If anyone had to take a call during a meeting, we could understand why he would. But he didn’t. My friend mentioned how Sir Richard was solely focused on the individual speaking. No distractions. No impatience. Just a solid concentrated focus.
It is the same state I can get into during yoga and am trying to bring fully to the rest of my life. When I am “in the zone” during yoga, I am hyper aware of my breath, conscious of my movement, actively relaxing and deepening the pose. I am at one with the pose and there are no other thoughts or actions. Imagine what life would be like if we could approach everything that way.
Imagine being 100% present when your child tells you about their day. Imagine being fully with the one you love, without thinking of the laundry that needs to be done. Imagine focusing solely at the task at hand instead of being tormented by the other things on your to-do list.
One cool thing I have learned about being present during yoga, is that time expands. The 90-minute class feels like two hours. In fact, the first few times this happened, I got worried. I thought the instructor went over time and that I would be late for my client. But nope, same recorded amount of time, just a different experience of it. As I slowly bring this singular focus into my daily life, I find that my work day is less hectic. Time expands with my clients and between clients. What used to feel like constantly being behind the eight-ball, is now a work day of expansion and extra time. Nothing has changed except my focus, my ability to slow down and be in the moment.
Start taking control of your day by first controlling your phone. Turn it to silent and ignore it when you are working with someone else. Then, as best as you can, focus solely on the task or person at hand. Give them 100% of your attention. Then see how your efficiency, joy, and time all increase.
Yoga is part of my current daily practice. I have been learning many new lessons through the practice which I am bringing into my daily life. Today I would like to share with you three elements of yoga which can be the foundation of how you approach your challenges – on and off the mat.
A decade or so ago, I went briefly to a weekend workshop focused on finding your “one thing.” After the opening two-hour introduction, it felt like a cult and I high-tailed it out of there. The basics of the book and workshop were that if you found your “one thing” then you built your life around it. What I found funny was that some of the participants had been attending these workshops for years and either could not find their one thing or had changed it many times.
I think one of the issues of the program was the focus on results and the physical world. The idea was to find a singular purpose, something tangible and achievable, and then create your life around that making it happen. Instead, what I have found in yoga and in my own life, is that a focus on ways of being allows a purpose to be revealed, evolve, and lead us on an amazing journey.
The three ways of being I am learning through yoga are: strength, balance, and flexibility.
For me, this one is easy. My Type-A personality is all about strength, perseverance, and making things happen. What I have had to come to accept about strength, is that I am not strong in all areas and that leading with strength is not always the best choice. I am learning my limits; where can and should I be strong, and what is not in my ability. As I flow more into Type Me, I also am releasing strength as my go-to tool and am learning to find other ways to approach life.
I write a lot about work-life balance, but balance is more than juggling the things in our lives. It is also about being centered. I am learning to be physically centered in my body on the yoga mat and out moving in the world. I am also returning to being centered in my mind and thinking. Balance is an inner strength and confidence no matter what is happening outside. It is calming the mind. It is remaining still in the center of a storm.
When I think about flexibility, it is not giving in and bending over backwards for others. Flexibility is about remaining open; it is being a young branch swaying in the wind not an old brittle hardened stubborn branch susceptible to damage because of its rigidity. To be flexible is to be open to what we know and what we don’t know; being open to new opinions, personalities, and ways of living.
Strength, balance, and flexibility work together to create a powerful way of being. If we are only strong, we may become exhausted or rigid. If we only focus on balance, we may never move forward. If we only choose flexibility, we may be swayed too much by the wants and needs of others. When we use all three legs of the stool, strength, balance and flexibility, we create a strong foundation for living.
After transitioning from Type A to Type Me, I found that practicing a regular routine helped me from sliding back into my Type-A ways. Originally, the practice was reading inspirational works daily, meditating, focusing on active gratitude, and walking. I diligently engaged in these things daily to lay a strong foundation and center myself.
Two and a half years ago, I arrived in paradise. Breaking out of the rat race, I landed in a beautiful location surrounded by calming water and a culture of loving caring individuals. Things were perfect. I let my daily practices slide. Why would I need to have a daily practice now that I had the sun and the surf every day?
I did not notice the impact right away. Things were good. I didn’t have to maintain my practice to feel centered. Life was amazing. But then it started. Little issues. Little conflicts. Small and big challenges. Without the foundation of my practice, I found myself unconsciously and negatively reacting to these trials. I did not approach them with calm centeredness, but with blinding emotion. The result was the same horrible feeling I had when I was in the deep despair of my Type-A days.
Thankfully things are on the mend. I have committed to creating a new Type-Me practice. And by practicing daily, I am slowing down and being more conscious of my thoughts, actions, and beliefs. I am not allowing my emotions to take a hold of my reactions. And I am finding more peace in my daily life.
Having a regular practice is very important. Times will be good. Times will be bad. The consistency of our practice is what bridges these hills and valleys. It gives us support during tough times and creates even more ease when things are good.
Doing a daily practice is more important than what the practice is. What is important is finding what you need to help keep you centered. Look into practices like meditation or yoga that clear your mind. Find the texts that feed your soul whether they are from religious books or your favorite blog. Engage your body in the movement it desires. Add in practices of gratitude, intentions, and affirmations. Maybe you want to have a bit of a creative outlet daily. Many different tools are available to you to create your own practice. Find the ones that best serve you.
You may also find that your daily practice changes over time. As your life changes, you may find that you need different types or means of support. Just like any diet, your personal practice may change overtime, and if you don’t change your diet you may find yourself stuck in a rut or not getting all the nutrition you need. Every so often look at your practice and evaluate what is working and what is not. As we grow, it makes sense that our practice grows with us.
Do you have a daily practice? Are you faithfully executing it? How do you feel when you practice a few days in a row? How do you feel when you skip your practice a few too many times? What would it take to gift yourself with a practice?
Since the day after Christmas, I have been a yoga fiend. Recently I finished a 21-day challenge with 17 days of yoga. Yea me! Not only has my practice helped with my body, but as in true yoga, it is improving my mind, actions and outlook. The concept is that the things we learn on the yoga mat are what we bring into our daily lives to make it better.
One big aha I had the other day is about strength and release. When I first returned to my yoga practice, I was out. of. shape. It had been years since I did yoga and months since I did any exercise. My body forgot what it was like to be used. At the first few classes, we would be put into one of the poses and told to hold the pose for a few breaths. As I tried to hold the pose, my legs would shake. Three breaths seemed like an eternity. I believed that I was not strong enough to do the pose. But I was wrong.
I wasn’t relaxed enough.
Last week I was working with my favorite instructor who likes to push me further and further into my practice. I got into a deep pose and was told to hold it. My leg began to shake like it did during the first few classes I took. I told the instructor that I was not strong enough yet to do the pose. He corrected me. It was not strength I was missing, but flexibility. My leg was shaking because my leg was too tight. What I needed to do was to release in order to find the strength to hold the pose smoothly.
This blew my mind.
Up until then my practice on the mat – and in life – was to push through the pain. I am a penguin ever marching to and from sea to survive. I have persistence and drive. I power through. In yoga, and in much of my life, trying to be too strong is actually a weakness. In my toughness, I was hardened and inflexible. I would exhaust myself, and sometimes those around me. As I released my Type A, much of this toughness dissipated. But drive, strength, and hardened toughness are still my unconscious go-to behaviors when I am faced with a challenge.
Taking my lesson from the mat to my life, I learned that it helps to learn to let go. When things are tough, I need to release my fear, my doggedness, my rigidity. Instead of putting up a shield and preparing to fight, I am better served by relaxing into the conflict. When I notice myself toughening up, I intend to release the tension in my body and the walls in my mind. Instead of falling into my go-to drive, I will now ease into the strength that comes in stillness.
Spend this week noticing when you are tense. What triggered you? What are you trying to push yourself through? Then gently release the tension – in your body and mind. Maintain the core of your strength but let your muscles and attitude relax. See if in this state of ease that things are not resolved easily and efficiently – and more enjoyable way.
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