Monthly Archives: March 2015

Asking for What You Need Isn’t Offensive but Overreacting Can Be

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are two primary food items I want to talk about today, both arising from the same situation. In case you haven’t been a reader of mine for long, primary food, are things that nourish us that are not food (relationships, social life, spiritual life, physical activity, career etc). Secondary food is the actual food we eat.  Primary food is just as important as secondary food when it comes to being well. One of the tenets of health coaching is that if we support our areas of primary food properly, secondary food becomes easy (weight loss happens effortlessly, digestion is more regular etc). When primary food is neglected or out of balance, secondary food becomes an issue (think over or under eating, poor nutrient absorption etc.) In my personal as well as professional practice, I have found this to be so incredibly true. Nourishing primary food is a way to keep our hearts and souls well fed. Feeding your heart and soul is integral to living a well rounded vibrant and healthy life.

Today, I specifically want to talk about consciously and actively feeding our hearts and souls properly through two areas.  They are:

1. Asking for what you want or need (it’s not inherently offensive).
2. Being conscious of how much energy you give to intense reactions (namely overreacting to negative crap).

While these seem things don’t seem to be that connected, both can play a role in how or if our hearts and souls are fed and they came up for me in a situation this past week. I’m sure you’ll be able to relate and have experienced both in some way.

Part 1: Ask for what you want or need. 
This past week I got an email from someone that in an instant took me from the relaxed and calm state I was in to stressed and irritated. Their message, frustrated me. Instead of coming out and directly saying what she needed/wanted, the sender posed the situation in a passive aggressive way that made it difficult to say yes to what she was proposing, but also made saying no very awkward.  I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.  I know the sender’s intentions weren’t malicious or intentionally aggravating – it’s just that this person is someone who sincerely does not want to offend! And they will try to be polite no matter what the situation.

This situation has come up several times in the past with this person and while by nature I am very direct and forthcoming but in some cases, with certain people, I have learned it’s best to temper my candidness. In this case, responding very honestly could hurt their feelings (and this is not someone whose feelings I want to hurt).

Being polite is important, as is not intentionally hurting feelings or purposely offending anyone – especially if it’s someone you care about or want to do business with etc.  But can we be clear about something? Asking for what you want or need (especially if done in a loving way) is not offensive.  It’s not impolite. It’s not wrong.  And women as a whole need to get better at doing it. You deserve to get your needs met. You deserve the chance to fulfill some of your wants too! Tip toeing around what you are trying to communicate means there is a big chance you won’t be understood and are less likely to get what it is you are after. If you leave it up to the person on the other end of the conversation to figure out what it is you want or need, you just might not ever get it.

Yes, there is a time and place that it is probably inappropriate to ask for what you want but I think most of us are intelligent and intuitive enough to know when those situations are occurring. Lady, give yourself some credit.

Determining if it’s appropriate to speak up
If I’m not sure if it’s the right time to be clear about my needs or wants, I ask myself a few questions like these:

  • Will getting this feed my heart or soul?
  • Will getting my need or want satisfied damage the person I’m asking it of in any way?
  • Is my truth being honored in this situation? If not, what would make that so?
  • Is my ego involved? If my ego wasn’t involved, what would be the best solution for all involved?
  • Would it be ok if this need or want was never satisfied?
  • Can this need or want be satisfied at another time or is this a one-time opportunity? What’s the risk of not going for it?
  • Where’s the harm in asking?

These answers can act like a compass and help you to know when you should ask confidently. To be honest, most of the time it is the right time to speak your truth. And odds are, if you are like the person who sent the email, you’ve spent much of your life being overly cautious about conveying your needs or wants when there are other people involved. Why are their needs more important than yours?  If you are clear about what you need and you say it in a way that is kind, open and honest without being hurtful (and this sometimes takes practice), usually both parties end up happier.  If you try asking for what you want in a veiled and passive aggressive way, not only are you probably not going to get what it is you are after but you’re probably going to strain the relationship with the other person because you’re putting the onus on them to decipher and decide on what’s best for both parties. And that’s not really fair to either of you!

Part 2: Be thoughtful about how much energy you give to your reactions.
A reaction is a reaction. There’s not much we can do about how we feel about something and it’s important to be in touch with our feelings. Feeling them, acknowledging them and riding them out can all be a healthy thing.  But that doesn’t mean we need to feed some of them. We don’t need to overreact by playing a situation over and over.  So what exactly am I talking about?

In the email situation I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was irritated, frustrated and annoyed.  In the past, when something like this, or anything else that majorly annoyed me – it would seriously set me off in a bad way. Setting ME off means I intensely react. I have to vent to friends, family, my journal – you name it.  I’m not one to keep things that aggravate me inside. The problem with this though is that each time I relay the situation and how much it upsets me actually adds more fuel to it, causing far more upset and frustration than the original situation warranted. My overreactions cause a lot of unnecessary stress.

I’m also an intense reactor when something positive is going on in my life. My face beams when I’m excited. My happiness is palpable. My laughter contagious. When I have had a good day or am in a good mood you can physically see and feel it’s presence. Again, I’m not good at keeping it inside. I’ll share whatever happiness I’m celebrating with anyone who will listen and each retelling of it increases the positive feelings that come from it.

In both cases retelling and rehashing the situation that brought on the feeling is feeding my heart and soul (and also feeds the energy of the people on the receiving end).  But one case is feeding my heart and soul bad feelings and the other is feeding it good feelings. Why would I want to repeatedly feed myself emotionally or otherwise something that is only going to make me feel rotten? It’s an offensive way to treat myself (and those that I share my energy with).

While we don’t really have a choice about how we feel and we can’t change the other person involved, we do have a choice in how we react to that feeling, how much stock we give to it and whether or not we indulge it.

Does any of this sound familiar? Are you an intense reactor? You don’t need to share your big feelings with other people to be an intense reactor. Some of us prefer to keep things to ourselves but still replay situations or stories to ourselves – keeping a negative (or positive) feeling in focus. What purpose is this serving?

The passive aggressive email I received normally would have meant I hastily sent off a complaining email to a friend or two and vented to John 5 times about it. And I probably would have raged about it at the next social gathering of my friends. And it would have had far more of a negative impact on me than it should.  It’s not an important enough situation that I need to stay irritated about it (really, how many situations are!?).  So instead, I replied quickly and to the point, expressed my annoyance once and calmly to my patient husband and then chose to let the situation go.  These last several months I’ve been practicing letting go of my need to hold onto crappy feelings (meditation has been really helpful!).  They do not serve me in anyway.  There’s no need for me to indulge them – so I won’t.  I will keep indulging those good ones though!

We feed our bodies by providing them with good food, sleep, water, quality supplements and more.  We feed our souls and hearts with self-care, hobbies and time with loved ones.  But we also should try to remember that communicating our needs and wants is a way to feed ourselves as well (and we shouldn’t feel ashamed or timid about doing it).  And knowing when to indulge and when to let go of intense reactions is an important part of a healthy life too.

Having a well nourished, well fed heart and soul will benefit you in many ways – for starters, getting your needs met can do wonders for where your life takes you. It gives you confidence and makes your brave. Well fed/supported people are more giving, more loving and have happier lives. People who can let go of emotionally draining baggage have less stress and are a joy to be around. People who don’t let negative feelings build up and fester and less angry and irritable. I’m not going to link to science to back me up today. This is something I just know, thanks to personal trial and error and also through the amazing work my clients allow me to be a part of.

Do you have trouble clearly communicating your needs or wants? Is being perceived as impolite a large concern for you? Have you ever experienced an intense reaction to a situation? Did it affect you positively or negatively?  Please share your thoughts in the comments – I love to hear them!

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How Expectations Affect Your Experience

How do expectations in life color your actual experiences? Do you think one has anything to do with the other?

The picture above drove me crazy as a kid – it was in a book we had on optical illusions and while I could see both women in the picture easily, the fact that the picture told you that there were two women in the picture right off the bat gave me the expectation to see two women. This bothered me – I wanted to know what I would see if I hadn’t been told ahead of time that there were two people in the drawing.  Who would I have seen? The “wife” or the “mother-in-law”? No idea but an expectation had been set and I’m pretty sure it affected my experience of the “trick”.

We have expectations for everything in life. Many of them are unconscious ones – we don’t purposely try to set up expectations but it is something that happens over time from early experiences or things that are taught to us. To give you an idea of just how pervasive expectations in our life are, think about a random day in your week.

Before you go to bed at night, you have expectations about how your day will go tomorrow. You have expectations for the quality or quantity of your sleep. You have an idea of what your commute will be like or whether your boss will be in a good or bad mood. A meeting being run by a co-worker who drives you crazy is likely to be a meeting that drives you crazy. A lunch date with a friend you are excited to catch up with is likely to be a happy point in your day. By mid-afternoon you’ve already made an intention as to how your evening will go – maybe you’ve decided to hit a class at your gym or maybe you’ve decided what you need is happy hour and a big plate of wings. You may already be dreading a meeting at your son’s school or a dentist appointment later in the week. Or you may be excited about a concert you’re going to when the weekend finally gets here. Your whole day, week and month is filled with expectations.

Our expectations wholly affect our experience.  And while often our experience is where we developed those expectations in the first place, it doesn’t mean we have to accept every expectation as permanent and unchangeable, especially if it’s inviting a whole bunch of negative feelings and thoughts into our lives. Yuck. Who wants that?  Our brains are incredibly powerful machines and if we repeat a story over and over, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Our beliefs influence our behavior – we make choices that can make something true that may not have been likely in reality.  If you want a happier life, you have a responsibility to question the expectations you have that are repeatedly causing unhappiness or negativity in your life.

Expectations that can cause negative experiences
If you see other people as being out to “get you”, if you think that only bad stuff happens to you or that everything in the world is black and white – that’s exactly what you are going to get.

If you think there is a big conspiracy, there is. If you think life is hard, it absolutely is. If you think you don’t deserve love or will never find it, you won’t.

The same can be said for lifestyle or diet changes – if you think you can’t do it, you can’t. If you think it’s too hard, it is. If you think getting healthy, fit or losing weight is for someone else, it is. If you think cooking is a pain in the arse, it is!

If you think everything that happens to you is set in stone and out of your control, it is.

Expectations that can cause positive experiences
But the reverse is also true!

If you think most people are generally kind, they are. If you believe that there is a lot of good in your life, there is. If you think you deserve love, you do. If you think working out is worth it, it is. If you think eating healthy can taste and feel good, it will.

If you think you have a choice in creating a life you will love, you do!

Question expectations
We can choose to question the expectation that are causing a negative affect in our life even if most of our previous experiences in that area caused us to have expectation to begin with. We come to accept things as truth, often from just one or two experiences – and that’s not always correct. Questioning the stuff we don’t really need in our lives gives us the opportunity to change it. When we question a belief or expectation, what we are really doing is deciding whether we want to play the role of victim or champion/hero in our lives.

For example, is it really possible that every person in your life is out to “get you”? It’s highly unlikely. What’s more likely is that a past experience has taught you to look for the negative in people close to you (making minor flaws major ones) or by causing you to choose to get close to people who are the type who will take advantage of you. If you expect all people want to see how they can benefit from you, those are the type of folks you will attract into your circle. You can change this story by setting some boundaries. Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t joking when she said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” No one can take advantage of you if you don’t let them. Set boundaries and start looking for people who want to lift you up.  They are out there – I swear.

Another example, do you really think it’s absolutely not possible for you to get fit?  Why do you think this? Unless you have an extreme medical condition, it’s highly unlikely. What’s more likely is that you’ve tried diets in the past and failed on them because they were either too restrictive or because you weren’t able to follow the plan as outlined for as long as required. Or you couldn’t get fit because you only did exercise that you hated or was too advanced (leading to injury). This type of thinking (that it’s not possible for you) often leads to poorer health, as our belief that there’s something inherently lacking about us gives us a carte blanche to go to the other extreme. You can change this story by questioning your earlier experiences (ok, did I really try that hard to get fit?  Was I honest about how much effort I put in?) and by choosing more reasonable / less restrictive approaches in the future, so that you can have success and stay on the path for long term.

One final example as to how our expectations can influence reality:  you think you’re going to have trouble falling asleep tonight as you’ve had trouble falling asleep for weeks. While not sleeping is a concrete experience – it usually has a cause that can be mediated. What’s likely happening is you’ve now developed an anxiety or fear around bedtime because of a few sleepless nights, that now leave you too amped up to actually fall asleep, which causes you to have another crappy night, and expect yet again another crappy night! It’s a horrible cycle to get into.  There are many reasons why we have trouble sleeping – but there are lots of things that can be done to help us get back to sleep.  Maybe because of the anxiety you’ve developed around bedtime you’ve found yourself laying in bed playing with your smartphone until the wee hours.  The light from the phone can actual signal to your brain that it’s not time to sleep – furthering your inability to sleep! You can change this story by questioning all your activities leading up to bedtime (chocolate after dinner? exercise before bed? smartphone?) and by creating a bedtime ritual that allows you to relax (epsom salt bath? breathing exercises? regular book reading?) and by letting go of the fear around it.  It takes some practice (like the other examples) but you can be successful changing this situation.

I urge you to take a look at areas of your life that you have repeated negative thoughts or feeling about and think about how you can change it. Do you want to feel like a victim in your own life (I have no control in this situation.) or like a champion (My actions influence the outcome.)?

I don’t know about you, but I never want to feel like a victim! I want to have good experiences as much as possible and I think deep down you do too.

Are you aware of negative expectations in your life? What do you think you need to do to change this? Share in the comments.